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California Primary Elections & eSlate Electronic Voting

By June 7, 2006

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For yesterday's California primary election, I served as an Election Judge for a local precinct. My primary responsibility as Judge was to control the eSlate JBC (Judge's Booth Controller), which is the CPU ("brain") that accumulates and stores all voting data for the precinct. I opened the JBC, issued all access codes to permit individual voting, assigned voters to booths, closed the JBC , and reviewed and publicly posted the JBC-tallied results for our site.

(A bit of background: I first volunteered and was chosen to be an Election Official for the November 2004 elections. I did so to learn more about electronic voting systems, and to do my part to support democratic elections. June 6, 2006 was the second election for which I worked, and I will be an official for the November 2006 elections.)

Observations and musings about California's June 6, 2006 primary election:

-- First, smile and thank your local Election Officials. In California, we work from 6 AM until 9 PM, with scant breaks. We receive only a minor stipend for our efforts, akin to jury duty pay. All precinct workers serve from commitment to community and US democracy. They make your vote possible.

-- Congrats to state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who won the Democratic primary for Governor. The better candidate prevailed. Angelides is a classic liberal, who has the strong backing of the state party, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, and House Democratic Leader Pelosi.

Angelides' success against Governator Arnold in November will be a clear gauge of Democratic strength nationally. (Prediction: the state's massive education community, from kindergarten teachers to university professors will decide the election.)

-- The electronic voting systems functioned almost flawlessly at our local precinct. (Almost, because one of eight booths had a minor malfunction, and had to be closed.) Voting was as simple and comfortable as possible, given that system technology is practically pre-historic by 21st century standards.

Since I issued the access codes to allow voters to cast ballots, I was privy to voters' political party affiliations. During the day, I kept tabs of the percentage of Dems and Repubs, and found that it matched our precinct's final vote tally. I have no doubt that, for our neighborhood precinct, the eSlate voting system accurately reflected votes cast.

But....mine is merely an educated guess. That is not auditable proof of voting accuracy. And therein lies problem.

To California's credit, each electronic voting booth was newly equipped with a small calculator-like "Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail" (VVPAT) device to the left of the voting screen. When voters have made their final ballot selections, they were required to re-review a paper hard-copy tape (viewable but inaccessible) of their choices before leaving the voting booth.

But here's the gaping hole remaining in the system: the paper hard-copy tape is then stored in the VVPAT for County voting officials to audit. The voter is provided NO receipt or record of their specific votes. And the voter is NOT provided a specific ID number, so that they can later double-check with authorities that their vote was properly counted.

Several voters commented on it. Nice that they could see that their votes were initially recorded correctly by the eSlate machine, but that gave them no assurance and no way to check that their votes were ultimately counted accurately.

Until voters are provided a eSlate receipt of their specific votes, and that receipt has a unique number that voters can later check with County records, there is no assurance that votes were accurately recorded and counted.

I make this statement based on my professional expertise as a former audit manager for Arthur Andersen & Co. and a university-level instructor of auditing.

Here's the odd part: each voter is already initially issued an access code unique to their precinct in order to cast a vote. It would be extremely simple for that precinct access code to be printed on a voter receipt generated by the VVPAT when the voter casts their ballot.

Why is this not already being done? Does someone not want citizens to be able to double-check the accurate counting of their votes?
Related Articles
-- Voting & Democracy - Egregious Voting Rights Violations in Ohio 2004
-- California Democratic Primary Candidates Angelides, Westly End Old Notions About Soft Democrats


June 7, 2006 at 8:09 pm
(1) Jenny Hurley says:

Diebold did NOT make the eSlate and JBC. Hart InterCivic of Texas made those voting machines. They are easy to use. However, this spring in the Ft Worth, TX area the eSlate had about 100,000 more VOTES than VOTERS. They blamed it on a programming error. If so, they can program errors all day long and you can never see in that Little Black Box called a computer. Thanks. God Bless

June 7, 2006 at 8:12 pm
(2) Deborah White says:

Thanks for the info, Jenny. I appreciate it. I will delete the Diebold name. That doesn’t change my conclusions, though, of course.

November 12, 2009 at 11:58 am
(3) Concerned says:

Why isn’t this already done, you pose? Because of the right to privacy of every voter protected by federal law regarding election ballots. Plus, the access code is a randomly generated number and neither the ballot nor the access code are in any way identifiable to the name of the ‘voter.’ So it would be contrary to our guaranteed right to the privacy of our vote to have a way of ‘checking’ an actual ballot online by way of a ballot number. Me thinks you should try something else other than being an Election Judge.

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