[Today’s guest post is from election technology expert Doug Jones, who is now revealed as also being an encyclopedia of U.S. elections history. Doug’s remarks below were in a discussion about how to effectively use post-election ballot-count audits as a means to gain trust in the correct operation of voting machines — particularly timely, given the news and comment about hacking India’s voting machines. Doug pointed out that in the U.S., we’ve had similar voting-machine trust issues for many years. — ejs]
Lever machines have always (as used in the US) contained one feature intended for auditing: The public and protective counters, used to record the total number of activations of the machine. Thus, they are slightly auditable. They are less auditable than DRE machines built to 1990 standards because they retain nothing comparable to an event log and because they do not explicitly count undervotes — allowing election officials to claim, post election, that the reason Sam got no votes was because people abstained rather than vote for him. (Where in fact, there might have been a bit of pencil lead jammed in the counters to prevent votes for Sam from registering).
One of the best legal opinions about mechanical voting machines was a dissenting opinion by Horatio Rogers, a Rhode Island supreme court judge, in 1897. He was writing about the McTammany voting machine, one that recorded votes by punching holes in a paper tape out of view of the voter. I quote:
It is common knowledge that human machines and mechanisms get out of order and fail to work, in all sorts of unforseen ways. Ordinarily the person using a machine can see a result. Thus, a bank clerk, performing a check with figures, sees the holes; an officer of the law, using a gibbet by pressing a button, sees the result accomplished that he sought; and so on ad infinitum. But a voter on this voting machine has no knowledge through his senses that he has accomplished a result. The most that can be said is, if the machine worked as intended, then he has made his holes and voted. It does not seem to me that this is enough.
I think Horatio Rogers opinion applies equally to the majority of mechanical and DRE machines that have been built in the century since he published it.
— Doug Jones
Mandatory disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are mine! The various institutions with which I am affiliated don’t necessarily agree. These include the U of Iowa, and the EAC TGDC. – dj