Showing posts sorted by relevance for query voting machines. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query voting machines. Sort by date Show all posts

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Devastating account of e-voting's flaws

Is anybody in Texas who can do anything about this paying attention?

The earliest critiques of digital voting booths came from the fringe — disgruntled citizens and scared-senseless computer geeks — but the fears have now risen to the highest levels of government. One by one, states are renouncing the use of touch-screen voting machines. California and Florida decided to get rid of their electronic voting machines last spring, and last month, Colorado decertified about half of its touch-screen devices. Also last month, Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio secretary of state, released a report in the wake of the Cuyahoga crashes arguing that touch-screens “may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process.” She was so worried she is now forcing Cuyahoga to scrap its touch-screen machines and go back to paper-based voting — before the Ohio primary, scheduled for March 4. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat of Florida, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, have even sponsored a bill that would ban the use of touch-screen machines across the country by 2012.

Gotta love that first sentence: "the fringe" are "disgruntled citizens".

Anyway, there's plenty to be appreciative of in this report...

If the machines are tested and officials are able to examine the source code, you might wonder why machines with so many flaws and bugs have gotten through. It is, critics insist, because the testing is nowhere near dilligent enough, and the federal regulators are too sympathetic and cozy with the vendors. The 2002 federal guidelines, the latest under which machines currently in use were qualified, were vague about how much security testing the labs ought to do. The labs were also not required to test any machine’s underlying operating system, like Windows, for weaknesses.

Vendors paid for the tests themselves, and the results were considered proprietary, so the public couldn’t find out how they were conducted. The nation’s largest tester of voting machines, Ciber Inc., was temporarily suspended after federal officials found that the company could not properly document the tests it claimed to have performed.

“The types of malfunctions we’re seeing would be caught in a first-year computer science course,” says Lillie Coney, an associate director with the Electronic Privacy Information Commission, which is releasing a study later this month critical of the federal tests.

In any case, the federal testing is not, strictly speaking, mandatory. The vast majority of states “certify” their machines as roadworthy. But since testing is extremely expensive, many states, particularly smaller ones, simply accept whatever passes through a federal lab. And while it’s true that state and local elections officials can generally keep a copy of the source code, critics say they rarely employ computer programmers sophisticated enough to understand it. Quite the contrary: When a county buys touch-screen voting machines, its elections director becomes, as Warren Parish, a voting activist in Florida, told me, “the head of the largest I.T. department in their entire government, in charge of hundreds or thousands of new computer systems, without any training at all.” Many elections directors I spoke with have been in the job for years or even decades, working mostly with paper elections or lever machines. Few seemed very computer-literate.

The upshot is a regulatory environment in which, effectively, no one assumes final responsibility for whether the machines function reliably. The vendors point to the federal and state governments, the federal agency points to the states, the states rely on the federal testing lab and the local officials are frequently hapless.

This has created an environment, critics maintain, in which the people who make and sell machines are now central to running elections. Elections officials simply do not know enough about how the machines work to maintain or fix them. When a machine crashes or behaves erratically on Election Day, many county elections officials must rely on the vendors — accepting their assurances that the problem is fixed and, crucially, that no votes were altered.

In essence, elections now face a similar outsourcing issue to that seen in the Iraq war, where the government has ceded so many core military responsibilities to firms like Halliburton and Blackwater that Washington can no longer fire the contractor. Vendors do not merely sell machines to elections departments. In many cases, they are also paid to train poll workers, design ballots and repair broken machines, for years on end.

“This is a crazy world,” complained Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor of Leon County in Florida. “The process is so under control by the vendor. The primary source of information comes only from the vendor, and the vendor has a conflict of interest in telling you the truth. The vendor isn’t going to tell me that his buggy software is why I can’t get the right time on my audit logs.”

Ugh. More bad news for democracy. Is there a solution? Sancho in Florida may have one:

Optical scanning is used in what many elections experts regard as the “perfect elections” of Leon County in Florida, where Ion Sancho is the supervisor of elections. In the late ’80s, when the county was replacing its lever machines, Sancho investigated touch-screens. But he didn’t think they were user-friendly, didn’t believe they would provide a reliable recount and didn’t want to be beholden to a private-sector vendor. So he bought the optical-scanning devices from Unisys and trained his staff to be able to repair problems when the machines broke or malfunctioned. His error rate — how often his system miscounts a ballot — is three-quarters of a percent at its highest, and has dipped as low as three-thousandths of a percent.

More important, his paper trail prevents endless fighting over the results of tight elections. In one recent contest, a candidate claimed that his name had not appeared on the ballot in one precinct. So Sancho went into the Leon County storage, broke the security seals on the records, and pulled out the ballots. The name was there; the candidate was wrong. “He apologized to me,” Sancho recalls. “And that’s what you can’t do with touch-screen technology. You never could have proven to that person’s satisfaction that the screen didn’t show his name. I like that certainty. The paper ends the discussion.” Sancho has never had a legal fight over a disputed election result. “The losers have admitted they lost, which is what you want,” he adds. “You have to be able to convince the loser they lost.”

That, in a nutshell, is what people crave in the highly partisan arena of modern American politics: an election that can be extremely close and yet regarded by all as fair. Not only must the losing candidate believe in the loss; the public has to believe in it, too.

The article makes the most cogent point possible, that the greatest concern isn't about the integrity of voting officials or hackers, but the vast potential for unintentional errors -- by the programmers, by the administrators, and by the voters themselves.

Can we take preventative action before next November to avoid the possibility of a catastrophic failure similar to 2000 in Florida, and 2004 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio? The only tool at our disposal is the continued agitation of those responsible for the decision-making. At every level of influence.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"It's not a bug, it's a feature"

Today the Texas Democratic Party filed suit against the secretary of the state of Texas, Roger Williams, claiming voter disenfranchisement. The electronic voting machines used in many Texas counties, called e-Slates, have routinely counted undervotes on straight-ticket ballots -- in effect subtracting a vote -- when a voter would additionally pick a Democratic candidate on their ballot. You can read the announcement here.

I want to separate this paragraph from the press release for some greater examination:

On the eSlate machines, when a voter chooses a straight-ticket vote and then continues to select candidates of the same political party to “emphasize” their vote, the machine actually records the vote for that race as a no vote. This is inconsistent with the tabulation of absentee paper ballots in those counties, as well as electronic voting machines used in other counties across the state. The irregularities relating to the eSlate voting system have affected the outcome at least one race, located in Madison County. However, there are 101 other Texas counties that employed these machines in the 2006 election.

Additionally, the Secretary of State’s office is required to test all voting machines used in Texas elections and knew of the irregularities related to the eSlate machines, which are manufactured by Hart Intercivic. Yet Secretary Williams allowed the machines to be used anyway.

Hart InterCivic was an old-fashioned printer for the state government before they got into the e-voting business. They got into that business shortly after Tom Hicks -- Bush Pioneer and owner of the Texas Rangers, aka the man who made Dubya rich -- invested heavily in the company in 1999.

Here's where things get interesting:

Hart representatives have always claimed that emphasis voting is not a programming error but a standard function of e-Slates. That explanation still puts their machines in violation of Texas election law, which states that votes must be tabulated and recorded "uniformly" throughout the Great State. Hart, though, is not named as a defendant in the litigation; Secretary Williams, as supervisor of elections, must certify the voting mechanisms in Texas. All of them, whether paper ballot or DRE. Thus the heart of the matter, and the basis for the voter disenfranchisement complaint.

The Office of Attorney General will defend Williams in this filing. There'll be more to say here as the case goes forward.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A lawsuit in Texas against electronic voting

From the Longview News-Journal:

Two Travis County voters, joined by Democratic nominee for Texas Attorney General David Van Os and the Texas Civil Rights Project, filed a lawsuit in state district court Wednesday seeking to block the use of electronic voting machines that do not produce paper receipts.

The lawsuit claims that the paperless machines violate the public's right to a secure election and the purity of the ballot box under the Texas Constitution, according to a news release.

Darryl Primo, Gregg County's Precinct 2 commissioner, said he isn't surprised that someone is challenging electronic voting machines. He said he was the lone dissenting vote when commissioners purchased 160 machines in October using a $539,000 grant from the Help America to Vote Act.

Primo said he voted to purchase additional equipment to produce receipts that would allow for a voter audit trail.

"They voted not to do it. I wanted to do it; they voted not to do it," Primo said, "and it sits like a time bomb ticking away until the next time we have a contested election."


Primo pointed to the 1992 county judge election between Ken Walker and David Wright, when it took five recounts before Walker was declared the winner by fewer than 10 votes.

"Here's the issue, that the people I spoke with a year ago said that no matter how many safeguards were put into the design of these (electronic voting machines), there were vulnerabilities in the system," he said.


"When every voter cannot be sure that a machine recorded his or her vote the way he or she intended, democracy is not fulfilled," (Van Os) said. "These paperless machines are a direct threat to constitutional democracy. We must have paper ballots."

Much more you should read between the ellipses above. The Austin American-Statesman takes a more pessimistic slant (that is, for voters who want fair elections) :

The lawsuit argues that voters have no way of knowing whether the vote they cast is recorded or stored correctly by the eSlate system, which has been used in Travis County since 2002, and that electronic systems are prone to fraud and mistakes. The group wants an injunction to block use of the machines and cites government and media reports detailing problems with electronic voting in Texas and other states.

Travis County has embraced the technology, switching to electronic voting for everything but absentee ballots. The federal government required Texas to put at least one electronic voting machine in each precinct by Jan. 1 so people with disabilities can easily vote.

DeBeauvoir and a spokesman for Williams, along with the founder of the Austin company that created eSlate, all rejected the claim that paper ballots are necessary for a fair and secure election.

"I am not a lawyer but I kind of doubt that there is much of an argument," said DeBeauvoir, whose office runs elections in Travis County. "I believe that the system is accurate and secure the way it is."

David Hart, the founder of Hart InterCivic, said that more than 400 jurisdictions nationwide use the company's eSlate system, which uses tablet-size screens on which votes are cast with dials and buttons.

He said the system, which is not connected to the Internet, stores ballot information in three electronic places. In Travis County, it captures images of each ballot so electronic or manual recounts can be conducted.

"The eSlate system has got a lot of security built into it," he said.

The difference in opinion presented in these two stories could illustrate the divide between rural Texas and the state's capital city: Austin is where Hart Intercivic -- the company that supplies the eSlates used to cast ballots in Travis County as well as the rest of Texas -- is headquartered. And the state Capitol, where the corrupt Republicans who authorized this purchase gather biennially, is right up the road from the AAS building.

The company seems to have been a small, only-slightly-imbalanced player in the political contributions game (.pdf file) but maybe there's an embedded special interest in there somewhere.

You think?

Friday, November 25, 2016

#AuditTheVote: The latest

$4.7 million as of the time stamp on this post.

Jill Stein has raised more than $4 million in just over 24 hours -- all through donations to her website.
“Our goal is to create a voting system that we can believe in,” Stein says.

Stein is questioning results in Pennsylvania, where Trump won by roughly 68,000 votes; Wisconsin, where his margin of victory was a little over 27,000 votes; and Michigan which is still too close to call.

“Let me be very clear: We do not have evidence of fraud,” Stein says. “We do not have smoking guns. What we do have is an election that was surrounded by hacking.”

She points to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the hacks into the voter registration lists in Arizona and Illinois - hacks which some U.S. investigators have linked to Russia. She says it all raises questions of fraud with electronic voting machines and demonstrate the need for a count of the actual paper ballots.

One of the guys that started all this is John Bonifaz.

The Washington Post notes that it has never been proven that voting machines can be hacked from afar, and a recount of paper ballots wouldn’t show any evidence of such hacking anyway.

None of this has stopped the donations coming in. Voting rights attorney John Bonifaz, who is helping drive the recount campaign, says the American people “deserve public confidence in the integrity of our process.”

“If we don’t ever look at the ballots, we don’t ever verify the vote, why should we expect that public trust?” Bonifaz says. 

This is the primary reason I support this effort (but to be clear, won't be donating to it).

Bonifaz says he approached Clinton first about recounts, but with no decision made, he approached Stein instead. The only comment from President-elect Donald Trump’s team has been a tweet from spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, saying, “look who can’t accept the election results,” referring to Clinton supporters.

I am a big fan of Stein's, have been since at least 2012, and think this fundraising effort has been a stunningly successful example of demonstrating the integrity she has regarding our elections and politics.  (As an aside to my very cynical friend Gadfly, I didn't criticize the diversity of her investments because as a financial planner, I understand more clearly than most that it's damned near impossible to put your money where your activism is and have a satisfactory ROI.  That may be different one day soon -- such as with the advancement of solar and wind -- but it's barely changed over the past fifteen years of my career.  If you want to be able to retire before you're 70 and not have to eat Fancy Feast a few times a week, then you need to go where the money already is.  YMMV, but IMO rising healthcare expenses combined with historically low interest rates all but compels retirement planning with one goal: maximizing returns.)

What this effort is truly about is re-establishing confidence in the system.

[What the report by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine showed was that this] ... is exactly the sort of result we would expect to see if there had been some sort of voting machine hack. There are many different types of voting machines, and attacks against one type would not work against the others. So a voting anomaly correlated to machine type could be a red flag, although Trump did better across the entire Midwest than pre-election polls expected, and there are also some correlations between voting machine type and the demographics of the various precincts. Even (Bonifax collaborator J. Alex) Halderman wrote early Wednesday morning that “the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.”

What the allegations, and the ripples they’re causing on social media, really show is how fundamentally untrustworthy our hodgepodge election system is.

Accountability is a major problem for U.S. elections. The candidates are the ones required to petition for recounts, and we throw the matter into the courts when we can’t figure it out. This all happens after an election, and because the battle lines have already been drawn, the process is intensely political. Unlike many other countries, we don’t have an independent body empowered to investigate these matters. There is no government agency empowered to verify these researchers’ claims, even if it would be merely to reassure voters that the election count was accurate.

Instead, we have a patchwork of voting systems: different rules, different machines, different standards. I’ve seen arguments that there is security in this setup — an attacker can’t broadly attack the entire country — but the downsides of this system are much more critical. National standards would significantly improve our voting process.

The federal government is going to have to pass a HAVA 2.016 version, and provide funding that secures our elections -- and rebuild the electorate's trust in them -- and it shouldn't be expensive if we move away from voting machines and toward paper ballots.

Although winning those three states would flip the election, I predict Clinton will do nothing (her campaign, after all, has reportedly been aware of the researchers’ work for nearly a week). Not because she does not believe the researchers — although she might not — but because she doesn’t want to throw the post-election process into turmoil by starting a highly politicized process whose eventual outcome will have little to do with computer forensics and a lot to do with which party has more power in the three states.

But we only have two years until the next national elections, and it’s time to start fixing things if we don’t want to be wondering the same things about hackers in 2018. The risks are real: Electronic voting machines that don’t use a paper ballot are vulnerable to hacking.

Clinton supporters are seizing on this story as their last lifeline of hope. I sympathize with them. When I wrote about vote-hacking the day after the election, I said: “Elections serve two purposes. First, and most obvious, they are how we choose a winner. But second, and equally important, they convince the loser — and all the supporters — that he or she lost.” If the election system fails to do the second, we risk undermining the legitimacy of our democratic process. Clinton’s supporters deserve to know whether this apparent statistical anomaly is the result of a hack against our election system or a spurious correlation. They deserve an election that is demonstrably fair and accurate. Our patchwork, ad hoc system means they may never feel confident in the outcome. And that will further erode the trust we have in our election systems.

If Clinton supporters -- who seem to be having a fresh, positive moment about Jill Stein -- are apparently the folks primarily funding the recount, then I applaud that.  The Republicans and Trump supporters should forthrightly do the same, since it was their man who questioned the integrity of the election to begin with, and they continue to do so in the North Carolina governor's race.

So Jill Stein's raised the money for the recounts; let's see how events proceed from here before we cast aspersions about her perceived motivations.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

'Election Integrity' extends to Judge Hidalgo, too

Not just the Republicans at the Lege, mind you.

We're not speaking of voter suppression today, but actual election integrity, a problem that many people think the new voting machines purchased by the Harris County commissioners have solved.  I don't think so, Judge Lina Hidalgo.

What were those concerns again?

That's a thirteen-count thread -- here's the unroll -- and it's pretty alarming.  Note in the replies there the experts who express misgivings, and the local activist who lobbied Commissioners Court in vain prior to the county's $54 million buy.  I asked Brad Friedman of BradBlog to weigh in; he is, to my experience, one of the nation's pre-eminent experts in the field of what we used to call black box voting, a topic he's covered -- and one detailed by many others -- for 20 years.

Uh oh. What about local authority Dan Wallach, of Rice University?  He's expressed no concerns that I can find about the Hart InterCivic Verity Duo, this new tech from the same vendor which supplied our old e-Slates with the scrolling wheel.  Wallach testified last week (.pdf) before the Texas Senate's State Affairs committee about election security; he writes at Medium, his Twitter page contains more geeks talking voting tech, and he's been published frequently, including by Zach Despart of the Houston Chronicle in October of last year about this topic.

My interpretation of his recent remarks is: "these latest machines are better than what Harris County had before, but that's not saying much". (Professor Wallach, if you read this and I have you mistaken, please feel free to correct me.)

Of course if Judge Hidalgo, or Elections Aministrator Isabel Longoria, or whoever monitors the Twitter accounts of Harris Votes or Hart InterCivic had wanted to respond to my concerns, they could have done so already.  Maybe they're all too busy to do so.  Maybe they have their Twitter notifications turned off.  Maybe I'm just a lowly blogger who isn't worthy of a response.  Maybe they didn't know about these issues (that doesn't fly for Hart); maybe they just don't give a shit.  We don't know, because nobody has said anything.

Somehow I expected more from a public servant whom I have voted for, donated to, and praised on these pages as a "rising star in the Democratic Party".

At any rate, if you want to take a look at how the new voting machines work, Judge Hidalgo and John Coby have a preview.

As for me, I'm voting by mail.  With an actual hand-marked paper ballot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fixing the vote (and then fixing that)

Stephen Pizzo writes:

If you can watch this entire video and still use an electronic voting machine, you deserve the government you get. If your state or district has decided to use electronic voting machines this November demand an absentee ballot today. Watch this video. Then join those of us who have decided that since paper was good enough for our Constitution, it's good enough for our vote too.
Oh, and when you're done watching the whole video... pass it along. November is only a few weeks off and the last thing Republicans want to see is either house returned to Democratic control. Because if that happens, hearings happen. And if hearings happen... well, who knows - someone(s) could go to jail. So demand a paper ballot or an absentee ballot in Nov. and leave the cheaters with a pocket full of worthless Diebold electrons.

Here's a partial transcript if you don't have time to watch right now...

Are there computer programs that can be used to secretly fix elections?


How do you know that to be the case?

Because in October of 2000, I wrote a prototype for Congressman Tom Feeney [R-FL]...

It would rig an election?

It would flip the vote, 51-49. Whoever you wanted it to go to and whichever race you wanted to win.

And would that program that you designed, be something that elections officials... could detect?

They'd never see it.

Two recent Houston Chronicle editorials detailed the concerns of fraudulent vote processing associated with Hart Intercivic's e-Slates, the DRE voting machines in use in Harris County and throughout the state. First, Stan Merriman wrote:

When the Hart voting systems were acquired in 2001, voters in Harris County thought they were being treated to the "latest and greatest" in voting system technology. This electronic system replaced a punch card system (remember hanging chads?) with the belief that we needed to enter the electronic age in the electoral process while also meeting emerging federal guidelines to simplify the voting process for our disabled citizens. ...

In the 2002 election some strange "vote flipping" incidents occurred that actually resulted in the temporary sequestering of machines reported as malfunctioning. The problem occurred with votes cast for senatorial candidates Ron Kirk and John Cornyn "flipping" to both rival party candidates. Lawyers were dispatched to scratch their heads over the cause and effect. No resolution of the situation was achieved.

This same anomaly occurred in the Kerry/Bush presidential election in 2004 in Harris County. Once again, the matter was dismissed as a "glitch" of no consequence and blamed on improper voter use. ...

In all, 1,218 voting machine complaints were filed in Texas in the 2004 general election with People For The American Way's Election Protection Division. In Harris County, 2,400 voting machine complaints were filed with a national voting advocacy group during that election.

In addition to these complaints, others were filed in Collin, Travis, Bexar and Wichita counties. Complaints included vote "transfers" (Kerry/Bush evidenced the same phenomenon reported in the 2002 and 2004 election in Harris County), lost votes, and machine and memory card failures. For the 2004 election, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Verified Voting Foundation received more complaints from Harris County than from any other voting jurisdiction in the nation.

And the Chronicle editorial board wrote:

"If folks can hack the Pentagon," Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg said, "they can certainly hack a machine in Harris County."

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican, says such concerns are unfounded. "There's this kind of cavalier attitude on these folks' part that all you've got to do is just bolt on a printer and there it is," said Kaufman, who estimates that it would cost up to $8 million to buy equipment and reprogram the system with the capability to print ballots in three languages. "We're just not at a point here where we're able to do it if we wanted to, which we don't."

Well, we're just going to have to fix this, Bev. And we're going to do so first by replacing you with someone who does.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance joined 82-year-old Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) ...

... in requesting membership in The Squad.

This is your expanded edition of the once-a-week roundup of the best of the left of, and about, our beloved Great State.  To the above, Bonddad gives a history lesson on how The Squad's members -- that's all of us, but especially the brave women pictured -- are direct ideological descendants of 1850s-era Congressional Republicans (if you saw the 2012 film Lincoln, which starred Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, then you have some additional insight here).

Texas Southern University will host the third Democratic presidential candidates debate, scheduled for September 12 and 13, and broadcast by ABC News and Univision.

The two-part debate will be held at TSU’s Health & Physical Education arena, which has 7,200 seats ... The candidates and debate moderators have yet to be announced. To qualify, candidates must amass 130,000 unique donors and receive at least 2 percent support in four qualifying polls.

Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards joined the US Senate Democratic primary, just ahead of state Senator Royce West's announcement on Monday.  The field includes former Cong. Chris Bell, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, and activist Sema Hernandez, among others.

And former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis declared her challenge to Republican Chip Roy for the right to represent the 21st Congressional District.

Dos Centavos scoffs at the weak Republican response to Trump's latest racist diatribe.

Better Texas Blog urges a vote against HJR38, the anti-income tax constitutional amendment.

The biggest prize in next year's elections will go to the political party that controls the state's House of Representatives, writes Ross Ramsey at the TexTrib.

The idea animating many political candidates, consultants and donors in Texas in 2020 is one that’s way down the list of concerns for many Texas voters: redistricting.

The 150-member Texas House has 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, creating a GOP majority that could flip to Democrats if the minority party could wrest away nine spots.


The legislators elected in 2020 will draw the next set of political maps for the state’s congressional and legislative seats. Right now, Republicans hold the governor’s office and majorities in both the state House and Senate -- a trifecta that virtually ensures the resulting maps will favor their party.

Winning a Democratic majority in the Texas House would give Democrats some leverage over at least some of the maps the state will use for the next decade of elections. Specifically, it could break the GOP’s control over the congressional maps that will be drawn after the 2020 census. At the very least, it would allow the Democrats to prevent Republicans from drawing those maps -- and to throw the political cartography to federal judges instead of Texas politicians.

More from Michael Li of the Brennan Center:

“There are 17 seats that Republicans won in 2018 by 10 points or less,” said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “And that seems to be a lot of opportunity for Democrats, because the investment that would be needed to flip those seats is relatively small compared to the prize of being able to have a role in help drawing 39 congressional districts.”

Kuff reads the Chronicle's article on the millenials running for Houston city council, then pulls out a spreadsheet that reveals the Bayou City municipal electorate "tends to be pretty old" in order to justify the premise that these aren't the candidates the voters are looking for.  (Or something.  Frankly it all smacks of ageism.)  For more enlightened reading, see David Collins, who has some very good questions for council candidates.

The state's largest county will have new voting machines, very likely with a paper trail ... but not until the May 2021 primary elections, according to HPM.

Harris County is set to replace its antiquated voting machines, which are based on 20-year-old technology. But the work won’t be done in time for the 2020 presidential election.

A prospective voter tries out an Election Systems & Software voting machine at the
International Association of Government Officials Conference Trade Show.

Photo by Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media

The new voting infrastructure will cost $74 million, with the funding coming out of the 2020 budget. Speaking at a trade show on Tuesday, County Clerk Diane Trautman said it will take until March just to narrow down the selection of voting machines to the top two vendors. She expects to pick the supplier by July of next year.

“Actually just to make 5,000 machines will take months,” Trautman said. “So to get them back, put them in the field, teach the election workers and the voters how to use them ... our estimate is the May 2021 election before they can be used.”

(Recent reports indicate that machines like the one pictured above are still not safe from hackers, and the company that manufactures them has a record of questionable business practicesBrad Friedman, one of the nation's leading voices for paper ballots, would concur that the only safe ballot is one marked by hand and not by machine.  Clerk Trautman needs to be encouraged to carefully consider her purchase decision in this regard.)

And there remains some confusion about whether the state's hemp legalization law accidentally decriminalized marijuana.  Some county DAs are ending prosecution of petty weed crimes while others are not, and our tuff-on-crime governor weighs in on the question.

The University of Texas-El Paso followed the University of Texas-Austin in reducing the costs of tuition to zero for families of a certain income level.  This is probably a direct consequence of the debate among Democratic presidential candidates on this topic.

With the 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 moon mission this past week, Texas Standard speaks to a historian about LBJ's role in the effort.

President Johnson (r.) with NASA head James Webb in 1967.

In 1957, a Soviet satellite wasn’t a cosmic curiosity; it was a real threat -- a nuclear threat. The public imagination was gripped by the idea that the Russians could bomb the United States from space. A few days after Sputnik launched, Johnson got a memo from an aide named George Reedy, urging the Senate majority leader to push for more aggressive space exploration. He saw an opportunity for good public policy -- and good politics. John Logsdon is professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

“That was Reedy’s message, that this was something that’s a good thing to do. Plus, it will be attractive to the public and position you, as Reedy said, and make you president,” Logsdon says.

Johnson ran with Reedy’s idea. He came to believe that control of space meant control of the world. For the next decade, Johnson worked to make sure that Americans were those controllers.

“Would we be on the moon without Lyndon Johnson? I think the answer is no,” Logsdon says.

SocraticGadfly shows and describes why Texas arts aficionados who have any chance to see the late-life Monet exhibit at the Kimball need to go.

The Lunch Tray wants a real federal response to lunch shaming.

Elise Hu provides your Trader Joe's shopping list.  (I don't even know any rich people who shop at Trader Joe's.  Do you?)

And Pages of Victory uses Tom Englehardt's voice as a stand-in for himself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Harris County elections warehouse burns *updates*

It's where the voting machines are stored.

Firefighters are battling a three-alarm blaze at a northeast Houston warehouse that stores the majority of voting equipment in Houston and Harris County, according to HFD.

The Harris County Election Technologies Center, located on Canino at Downey, caught fire around 4:20 this morning, quickly growing to three-alarms.

The warehouse stores more than 10,000 pieces of equipment including voting booths and E-slates, which are used in the election process.

This comes before the general elections to be held November 2, which includes Governor’s race. Early voting is scheduled to begin in October.

Beverly Kaufman probably wishes she had retired a few months ago. Now she has a fairly huge challenge. Depending on the scope of the damage, of course (which I'm certain is still being assessed as I post this) she must choose -- and then train poll workers and then implement -- a partial or entirely new voting method for the second-largest county in the nation. All in about seven or eight weeks' time. Projected voter turnout somewhere around four million hundred thousand, give or take a million hundred thousand (sorry, one too many zeros).

Is there sufficient equipment stored elsewhere in the state by Hart InterCivic that can be shipped to arrive here in time? If not, then what alternate system will be used?

You can almost hear the shrieking now of "voter fraud" from both camps, can't you? Then there will naturally be the lawsuits, some before and more after the fact.

Together with the Vasquez vs. Houston Votes undercard, we are guaranteed a barnburner (*groan*) of an election cycle in Harris County, and that's before we mention a single race.

Lunchtime update: all 10,000 e-Slates and accompanying MBBs were destroyed. There's a press conference scheduled this afternoon where Kaufman will announce a plan going forward, which seems at this point to consist of borrowing machines from neighboring counties. There isn't anything close to 10,000 DREs on standby in the entire state; I'd be surprised if she can collect 1,000 from Harris County's next-door neighbors. So rather than try to get something in on short notice to replace the former system, Kaufman apparently wants to keep the current protocol in place, which does have the value of minimizing errors, opportunities for mischief, and liability on her part. I predict she will underscore the importance of early voting and patience. Early conclusion: we'll have considerably fewer machines to vote with, and much longer lines to stand in to vote.

Evening update:  First, from Kos ...

"Because I don’t expect to have 10,000 pieces to work with, no matter what we do, I’m sure that we’re going to be putting on a full court press urging people to vote early," Kaufman said.

Then this from Brad Friedman ...

A source familiar with Hart Intercivic tells The BRAD BLOG that the nation's fourth-largest e-voting company has fallen on hard times of late and does not have machines to ship to replace those lost in the fire.

If they can't get "similar machines" from somewhere, how, oh, how will the citizens of Houston be able to have elections this year?! Especially since pieces of paper, pens, eyeballs, citizen oversight and common frickin' sense were all long ago outlawed in Harris County, Texas, apparently.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Scattershooting Karun Sreerama, Stan Stanart, Russian hacks, and Trump's shitty week

-- The drama surrounding the public works director of the city of Houston (Mayor Sylvester Turner's personal choice) has been resolved.  After being outed as a tool of the FBI for the third of three payoffs to convicted felon and HCC board member Chris Oliver -- who is still serving we the people, it should be noted -- Karun Sreerama is no longer.

Karun Sreerama is out as director of the city of Houston's Department of Public Works and Engineering following revelations that he made payments to a Houston Community College trustee who has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.


Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama's earlier payments totaling $77,143.

Sreerama's attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee. "What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI," Lewis said. "Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver's scheme."

That's an artful deflection, isn't it?

As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama's business.

"By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn't been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, 'No, no I've got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.' could adversely affect his position down the road," Lewis said.

Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.

Two months later -- at the FBI's behest, Lewis said -- Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.

Oliver repeatedly asked if Sreerama was working for law enforcement in their initial May 2015 meeting, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Leuchtmann said during Oliver's re-arraignment. Oliver took the first envelope of $2,500 cash from Sreerama days later, and by their July meeting, he'd passed Sreerama a list of all HCC contracts.

Sreerama decided by November 2015 to bid on a pest control project. Oliver later said he continued to delay votes to convince the board to vote on the basis of value, not price, to give Sreerama's company a shot, Leuchtmann said.

Lewis said Sreerama's payments to Oliver during this period "were authorized, provided and directed to be delivered by the federal government." Meanwhile, Sreerama's likely appointment as Houston's Public Works director became a subject of open speculation at City Hall.

Turner finally tapped Sreerama to lead the city's largest department in March, tasking him with managing all city streets, drainage, water and sewer systems on a $2.1 billion annual budget. Sreerama did not tell the mayor or other city officials during the vetting process about his involvement in the federal case, Lewis said.

"The FBI had asked him not to reveal it to anybody," Lewis said, adding that Sreerama called Turner about the case three weeks ago, after he learned it was set to be unsealed the next day.

Just your run-of-the-mill graft/corruption/city hall quid pro quo deal, about which the mayor has plausible deniability of any knowledge or involvement.  Happens every day in cities large and small, all across the land, 99% of them go undiscovered by the law.  Nothing to see here.

We're stuck with Turner and his lickspittles down on Bagby until 2019, so there will be plenty of time for this to disappear down the memory hole.  This makes some members of the Democratic establishment very relieved, so there's that.

-- Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart and Rice University professor Dan Wallach got into a very public pissing contest over the security, or lack thereof, associated with the county's voting machines.  The original article's headline contained the words "Russian hackers" and has been edited by the Chronic to tone down the hysteria, and Wallach made a glaring error by describing the Hart InterCivic e-Slates as running on Microsoft 2000, which has been struck through and corrected to 'Microsoft 7'.

Stanart eventually posted a retort to Wallach, of which you can read the newspaper's account at this link.  It's more CYA by the county's lousiest, most incompetent elected official.

Stanart looks like more than the usual putz in light of this news from DEF CON -- the conference of hackers that takes place annually, this year in Vegas -- and note some disturbing developments contained within a couple of the links that follow.  I've highlighted them in bold.

We already knew U.S. voting systems had security flaws ― the federal government put that nail in the coffin when it repeatedly confirmed that Russian hackers breached systems in at least 21 states during the election last year.
But on Friday, hackers stateside showed us just how easily some of the electronic voting machines can be cracked.
Those who attended DEF CON, a 25-year-old hacking convention held in Las Vegas, were given physical and remote access to voting machines procured from eBay and government auctions.
Within about 90 minutes, they’d exploited weak and outdated security measures to gain full access, The Register first reported. Some physically broke down the machines to reveal their vulnerabilities, while others gained remote access or showed that external ports found on some could be used to upload malicious software. 

None of these accounts mention Hart's e-Slates, in use for over a decade here, but I'm not inclined to take this as good news.

“Without question, our voting systems are weak and susceptible. Thanks to the contributions of the hacker community today, we’ve uncovered even more about exactly how,” Jake Braun, who reportedly came up with the idea for the challenge, told The Register.
“The scary thing is we also know that our foreign adversaries ― including Russia, North Korea, Iran ― possess the capabilities to hack them too, in the process undermining principles of democracy and threatening our national security.”
Some of the machines were reportedly outdated and not used in today’s elections, and attendees said that their various intrusions would have been detected and logged by officials.
But detection is a far cry from interception.
In June, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official again confirmed that Russian hackers were not only “attempting” to gain access to voting systems, they succeeded in at least 21 states and stole undisclosed information. The FBI detected the tampering last year ― though no evidence of changing vote numbers has been found ― but the Obama administration delayed reporting the breaches until Oct. 7, according to the Los Angeles Times.

So this would be an account of Russians hacking the election that I have never read before, and I would be compelled to say that I was wrong all this time; the Russians did perform hacks of significant magnitude into our election systems, even if the proviso that "no evidence of changing results was found" is inserted.

But when I click on those bold links above, I find no data that supports the claims of this HuffPo writer, Andy Campbell.  He has quite obviously jumped to the wrong conclusion.  Read the links for yourself.  Here are some excerpts; read the entire post at both links.

Russian hackers targeted 21 U.S. states’ election systems in last year’s presidential race, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told Congress on (June 21, 2017).

'Targeted' is not the same thing as 'hacked'.  And this from the second bold link above, dated late September of last year ...

There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on (September 28, 2016).

The "attempted intrusions" targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet. The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.”

Once more, in bold.

Only two successful breaches have been disclosed, both of online voter registration databases, in Illinois and Arizona over the summer.

While those two hacks were linked to hackers in Russia, the DHS official did not say who was responsible for the other failed attempts, noting that "we're still doing a lot of forensics."

Almost a month ago -- on July 5 -- I wrote and linked to pieces in Vox and in Bloomberg that revealed hacking in attempts in 39 states, and one breach of voter registration data in Illinois.  Two weeks before that, I linked to the report in the FWST about hacking attempts in Dallas County, and on June 2, compiled an extensive listing of the various attempts by the Russkies to influence the election to that point in time, most of which did not make even passing mention of hacking or hacking attempts.

I have followed the story extensively.  I have blogged about it exhaustively.  I still cannot find anywhere in the public domain -- save the mentions of voter database breaches in Illinois, and now Arizona above -- evidence that the Russians hacked anything of significance.  People like Mr. Campbell above do themselves, their publisher, and Democrats at large a great disservice by continuing to promote this false narrative.  It's fake news of the most destructive kind, because those of us that know it's a lie are being driven further away from the Democratic party and its candidates every time the lie gets repeated.  Maybe some day I'll be wrong about the Russians hacking the 2016 election, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

And perhaps Clinton Democrats already intuitively get that the Russian bullshit is a scam of their own invention, which could explain why they've ramped up their insane hatred for an even more implausible, yet always convenient scapegoat: Jill Stein and the Greens.

-- If Democrats wanted to bring Trump down and not themselves, then they'd focus more on the real Russian scandal.  The one Robert Mueller is working on.

Since Election Day, President Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront lots for about $33 million. That includes millions of dollars in properties to secretive shell companies, which can hide the identities of buyers or partners involved in the deals, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Now, details of some of those deals and other transactions by Trump's family business could be unmasked as special counsel Robert Mueller expands his inquiry into election-meddling by Russia and whether Trump's campaign colluded.

Federal investigators are expected to delve into records revealing some of the President’s most closely guarded secrets, including how much money he makes, who he does business with and how reliant he is on wealthy, politically-connected foreigners.

A half-dozen experts contacted by USA TODAY said they expect Mueller and his team to pursue everything from Trump’s income tax returns to the bank records underlying his companies’ real estate transactions in a quest to identify people who have financial relationships with the President and his business and political associates.

If Mueller gets fired by someone not named Jeff Sessions soon, the pending departures associated with Trump's shuffling the deck chairs his staff on his Titanic ego in the White House, to say nothing of the rats Republicans in Congress jumping off ...

... or even the overdue exodus of his base voters ...

 ... will accelerate as we move closer to the midterms.  But those fallout effects haven't yet taken into account his wink-and-a-nod approval to escalated police brutality ...

... his Tweeted transgender military service ban (that is not official until it is communicated through the conventional means) ...

... and the flaming bag of poo set alight on his own front step.


Those will all pale in comparison to the Nixonian conflagration of terminating the special prosecutor investigating his Russian business affairs.

The worst is yet to come.

Update: Just a couple of hours after I posted, Scaramouche is shitcanned in favor of General John Kelly, who moves over from the Department of Homeland Security.  Kelly is, for a general, quite the Trump stooge. No rumors floated yet about his replacement at DHS.  Seems like a bad time for that post to be vacant, with all this hacking going on and a war with North Korea about to break out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Harris commissioners OK $13 MM for more e-Slates... and paper ballots *updated*

I was unable to be present, so this post pieces together some eyewitness as well as media accounts of this afternoon's emergency gathering of county commissioners to address concerns surrounding the November election in the wake of last week's warehouse fire which destroyed all of the county's voting machines.

The $13.6 million approved will cover 2,325 voting machines and support equipment, and Beverly Kaufman indicates she has offers of "fifty here and a hundred there" from other elections administrators around the state, but not nearly enough to replace what was lost in last Friday's inferno. So while she pledges to "protect everyone's rights" by not consolidating precinct locations, she will also have 1.4 million paper ballots on hand "as a backup".

KPRC's Mary Benton, in this video report, holds a copy of a sample paper ballot. The two-page ballots will be available to "anyone who asks" for one, according to Benton.

Texas Watchdog's Twitter feed from this afternoon's meeting is here, yet Lee Ann O'Neal's report makes no mention at all of paper ballots.

State representative Garnet Coleman was present and publicly underscored concerns about voter suppression simply by virtue of fewer locations, fewer machines, and longer lines. Kaufman's pledge, as mentioned in the first graf, is to satisfy all those concerns.

I'll update this post with more as it comes around.

Update: Harvey Kronberg adds the following -- desperately in need of proofreading -- related to Garnet Coleman's public remarks at the hearing.


Consolidating voting places, long lines and other other measures could reduce minority participation, they say

Sixteen Democratic lawmakers today signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the Department of Justice to "assist and oversee the development of new plans for conducting the upcoming elcections (sic) in Harris County."

They continue, "While we are heartened by the stated intention of local officials in Harris county and across the state to condut (sic) a fair and open election in November, we are concernece (sic) that some of the options for conducting the election could have an adver (sic) impact on voter participation...."

The lawmakers note, "...In recent elections, there have been controversial actions on the part of the Harris county officials that administer and oversee voter registrations and elections."

The entire letter can be found here.

Also the Houston Press' Hair Balls ...

For all those who pine nostalgically for cardboard privacy boxes and paper voting ballots, oh boy is this the year for you.

At an emergency meeting of the Harris County Commissioners' Court on Monday, County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said paper ballots will be used to help compensate for the 10,000 pieces of electronic voting equipment that went up in flames last week.

The paper ballots will be the same as the ones regularly used by mail-in voters, and will be two-pages long for the November 2 election. Kaufman is urging residents to vote by mail and use the early voting period, which begins October 18.

8/31 a.m. update: Burka shares a letter from a friend and Harris County Democratic election official, and Glenn Smith expands on the conspiracy theory. Go read both.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


While I have long thought (scroll to the bottom) that our elections were, to use the adverb of the cycle, 'rigged', particularly in the Democratic primary to the disadvantage of Bernie Sanders by the DNC, and have long considered our voting machines to lack proper transparency and should be dispensed with in favor of a paper ballot that can be verified by both voter and auditor ... it seems to me like this won't be going anywhere, as with Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

 You've probably noticed the story and the Tweeting and all by now.  Emphasis in bold is mine.

Hillary Clinton is being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump, New York has learned. The group, which includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, believes they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. The group is so far not speaking on the record about their findings and is focused on lobbying the Clinton team in private.

Last Thursday, the activists held a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to make their case, according to a source briefed on the call. The academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.

Couple of things to note before we continue: it's been a week and this is just now leaking out, the deadlines for recounting are fast approaching, and ... you know ... the Russians.

The Clinton camp is running out of time to challenge the election. According to one of the activists, the deadline in Wisconsin to file for a recount is Friday; in Pennsylvania, it’s Monday; and Michigan is next Wednesday. Whether Clinton will call for a recount remains unclear. The academics so far have only a circumstantial case that would require not just a recount but a forensic audit of voting machines. Also complicating matters, a senior Clinton adviser said, is that the White House, focused on a smooth transfer of power, does not want Clinton to challenge the election result. Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri did not respond to a request for comment. But some Clinton allies are intent on pushing the issue. This afternoon, Huma Abedin’s sister Heba encouraged her Facebook followers to lobby the Justice Department to audit the 2016 vote. “Call the DOJ…and tell them you want the votes audited,” she wrote. “Even if it’s busy, keep calling.”

A circumstantial case.  The White House is not encouraging -- indeed may be quietly discouraging -- the effort.  And the highest authority on the record so far is Huma Abedin's sister

Rick Hasen explains the situation and the nuances best, but if you like conspiracy theories, this guy -- who claims to dislike them himself (that has an "I'm not a racist, but" ring to it) -- is there for you.  I'm more of an Occam's Razor man myself: the polls screwed the pooch.  Don't expect the Department of Justice to respond to your phone calls urging an audit of the election, either.

Before the election, the department promulgated extensive, real information on the topic and asked those with complaints to report them. They would investigate voter intimidation, election practices that discriminated or other violations of federal law, and would still do so.

But they would do it based on actual evidence of violations, rather than intensity of griping over the result.

I suspicion we'll have all moved on by this time next week.  And don't forget that there are a lot of bars open on Thanksgiving.

Update: Vox and Pajiba are both likewise skeptimistic. And Gadfly in the comments points to Philip Bump, who closes the case.

Update II: (Thanksgiving morning, about 3:43 a.m. CST): Well, I'll be goddamned.  Looks like we will be talking about this next week.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

TDP lawsuit over e-voting machines dismissed

DeeceX, at Burnt Orange:

Earlier this year, the Texas Democratic Party sued then-Secretary of State Roger Williams in his capacity as the state's chief election officer, alleging that the eSlate touch-screen voting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic and certified by the Secretary of State were defective and inaccurately tallied voters' intentions, depriving them of their voting rights as protected by the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the suit alleged that the machines mis-counted so-called "emphasis votes."

Yesterday, federal district judge Sam Sparks granted summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit. Chad Dunn, the TDP's General Counsel and the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, had this to say:
“We’re disappointed in the judge’s opinion. We’re taking the time to analyze it thoroughly and we’re considering our options on how to proceed. The Texas Democratic Party continues to believe that the eSlate machine fails to record the intent of voters in a significant number of instances.”

The bottom line is this: the eSlate STILL inaccurately counts certain straight-ticket votes, but neither the courts nor the Secretary of State will, for now, do anything about it.

In this posting I mentioned a meeting local e-voting activists were having with Houston and Harris County officials over concerns about e-Slates. That meeting was similarly a total washout.

It turns out that Bill White no more gives a damn about the myriad of security issues surrounding electronic voting than any of the county's Republicans. He came off not just disinterested but passive/aggressively hostile to the idea of asking a local expert in the field -- Rice University professor Dan Wallach -- to head a nonpartisan committee to oversee testing and make any security recommendations. He considered this request an attempt to "sell him a vendor".

Disappointing, but not unexpected by this first-hand observer. Perhaps the mayor was fatigued at the end of a long day which included Hurricane Dean preparedness meetings, but I'm not capable of giving him the benefit of the doubt based on things I heard about his lack of interest in advance of our conference.

Since neither the courts nor elected Democrats care to address these concerns, the emphasis on voting integrity by necessity now shifts to other areas of GOP voter suppression tactics.

Much more to write about this topic in the months to come.