Letters: Voting machines worrisome

Dear Editor,

In the 2014 municipal election voters in the Township of Langley get to cast their ballots on “new” DS 200 voting machines. The machines are indeed new, but this particular model has been around since prior to 2008. 

They are made in various places, according to reports mostly in the Far East. The machines are sold and or leased by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Nebraska.

The Township has leased 16 machines. There are 15 polls in the Township, but it appears it was felt prudent to lease one extra in case of a malfunction or breakdown.

The DS 200 is an optical scanning type machine that reads and records a voter’s markings on a paper ballot, functioning in a manner similar to the Acuvote OS machines used in the last five elections. The writer has been given a demonstration of the new machines, and has been assured by Township election staff that the machines are very reliable. There are those who are less than convinced of that, and one is reminded of what John

Steinbeck once said: “All schemes made by mice and men often go awry”. That applies to all things man made, including voting machines.

Limited space does not permit me to go into as much detail as I would like so I shall mention only some pertinent information.

Following the 2008 Presidential election and after extensive research the Florida Fair Elections Center (www.ffec.org) recommended that the DS 200 voting machines not be certified.

July 10,2010 Courthouse News Service (http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/07/23/29079.htm) reported that in Mineola, NY, a State Supreme Court Judge ordered that the DS 200 voting machines that the New York Board of Elections had approved for the September primaries be submitted to a testing facility in Connecticut. This was after both the Republicans and the Democrats complained that the machines had malfunctioned in the 2008 Presidential election.

Anyone interested in the voting machine issue can Google “ES&S DS 200 voting machines” or just about anything related to voting machines and one will get a real eye opener. There are hundreds and hundreds of reports of documented failures and malfunctions of various types of voting machines. The DS 200s are very well represented among them.

How can these things happen?

Nothing man made is totally fool-proof, but good quality control will inevitably make things more reliable. Nevertheless, break downs can and will occur in voting machines, just as computers crash from time to time. That is understandable, but to what extent can failures and malfunctions be tolerated? Most often software glitches are the problem. Here is what Bruce Schneier of Schneier on Security (https://www.schneier.com/essays/archives/2004) dated Nov. 9, 2004 had to say:

“The auditing that is conducted on slot machine software in the US is significantly more meticulous than that applied to voting software. The development process for mission-critical airplane software makes voting machine software look like a slapdash affair”.

Not very confidence inspiring is it, and perhaps that explains the hundreds and hundreds of reported voting machine failures.

Then there is the sad fact that voting machines in general can easily be hacked, and the unmentionable: they can be manipulated by unscrupulous people who might have vested interests in a certain election outcome by giving votes cast for candidate A to candidate B for instance. This would not alter the total vote count so there would be no outward manifestation of anything being wrong.

Where voting machines are being used, some US jurisdictions have come up with cost effective and reliable measures to ensure that everything is on the up and up. Immediately after an election, in a small number of precincts, chosen at random, the votes are recounted manually to verified the results reported by the voting machines. Definitely something to think about.

The writer has been advised by Township election staff that with the voting machines the final outcome of the election will be known within 15 minutes after the polls have closed. That is nice, but is that really necessary?

Considering the reliability and other problems, do we really need voting machines?

They are not used in provincial elections.

So if a manual vote count, one that one inherently would be able to trust, takes a little longer? Would that not be worth the wait? The sun would still rise or the rain would still fall the next day.

According to page two of the leasing agreement, the leasing of the voting machines for the 2014 election will cost the Township taxpayers $21,240.95, less a small amount for consumables that would have been incurred in any event. Some additional manpower would likely be needed on election day to do a manual vote count. However these extra costs would not come anywhere close to $21,000. Many people would be more than happy to earn a few extra dollars before Christmas, and would it not be better to keep the money being spent on leasing in the community rather than shipping it off to US outfit in Omaha, Nebraska, of all places.

Food for thought, and please get out and try the new voting machines we are paying for on Nov, 15.

T. Braaten, Aldergrove

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