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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Tuesday, December 18
A Hobson's Choice in Cuyahoga County?
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections held a hearing yesterday, to consider whether to dump its touchscreen voting system in 2008. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has this report and the Columbus Dispatch this one. This follows Friday's EVEREST report from Secretary of State Brunner's office, recommending that Ohio's existing voting technology be replaced with central-count optical scan equipment.

During yesterday's board of elections meeting, I presented this statement, arguing that against a precipitous shift to new voting technology -- especially to a central-count system that don't provide voters with notice and the opportunity to correct errors -- before the 2008 elections. As I explained in Saturday's post, I don't think Brunner's recommendation that Ohio replace all of its technology by 2008 is supported by the evidence set forth in the EVEREST report.

A more careful review of the EVEREST supporting materials raises further questions about its recommendation for a hasty transition to new technology. Among those materials is this study from SysTest Labs, which contracted with the Secretary of State's office. Among its findings are that "the greatest risks to the voting process and the integrity of elections are not created by voting technology but rather by management practices, operational constraints, inadequate funding and resources, regulatory frameworks as well as less than helpful/useful Vendor documentation" (p. 3, emphasis added). Further down on the same page, it says:
True security is a combination of technology related security techniques and security measures found in thoughtful, well documented policies, procedures, and processes for internal controls that are reflective of both a specific locality and a specific voting system.
I couldn't agree more. EVEREST's recommendation for a statewide transition to new technology is especially puzzling, in light of these findings from the Secretary of State's own consultant. It confirms that there's a wide gulf between EVEREST's findings, which warrant careful attention, and its recommendations, which aren't supported by the evidence and have a seat-of-the-pants feel to them. (For more criticism of EVEREST's recommendations, see this statement from Larry Norden of the Brennan Center. )

That said, there can be no question that Cuyahoga County has especially serious problems with its touchscreen voting system, sold by Diebold (now Premier) Election Systems. As the Columbus Dispatch notes in this editorial, there were exceptionally serious problems in Cleveland's 2006 elections. Not the least of these problems is the toilet-paper-roll-style paper trail that's used to satisfy Ohio's "voter verified paper audit trail" (VVPAT) requirement. As noted here, 20% of these paper records were unreadable in the 2006 election. This is especially troubling given that Ohio law makes the VVPAT the official ballot of record, as I've explained in this comment.

All of this leaves Cuyahoga County in an unenviable position. While I still question whether an expedited transition to new technology is the right thing to do, if the Board of Elections does decide to switch equipment, it would have to start this process quickly. See this timeline that one of the vendors has proposed. And if it does switch equipment, it has to go to a system that provides all voters with notice and the opportunity to correct errors. Given that Cuyahoga County is the biggest county is what's likely to be a -- if not the -- pivotal state in the 2008 election, its actions will and should be watched closely.

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