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Bowen’s voting audit unclear or misinterpreted?

By rgordon
Wednesday, April 4th, 2007 at 5:56 pm in Uncategorized.

After our story today, “Elections may prove to be very expensive,” we received this email from Nicole Winger, the deputy secretary of state for communication in the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

“I want to correct an inaccuracy in your elections story today. A few local officials are claiming that optical scan machines are not being included in Secretary Bowen’s top-to-bottom review of all electronic voting machines. You wrote, ‘[Warren] Slocum thinks Bowen should take her review one step further to include all voting devices in the state, such as optical scan machines that count paper ballots. Her proposal only calls for reviewing electronic voting machines.’

“An optical scan tabulating device is an electronic machine,” her email continued. “Secretary Bowen’s draft criteria for the top-to-bottom review specifically includes ALL electronic voting systems currently certified for use in California elections: DREs [direct recording electronic voting systems], vote tabulating devices, ballot tally computers and ballot tally software… everything electronic that is recording votes or tabulating votes.”

We reviewed Bowen’s six-page proposal again. It makes prominent reference to the security standards of a “direct recording electronic voting system,” – such as the county’s eSlates – as well as vote tabulating devices and their “design, hardware, firmware and/or software program features,” ballot tally computers and ballot tally software. Though it refers to the elections code that charges Bowen’s office with establishing specifications for “voting machines, voting devices, vote tabulating devices, and any software used for each,” there is no mention of the phrase “paper ballot” anywhere.

We also contacted Slocum, the county’s chief elections officer, to make sure that we hadn’t misheard him.

“I think the difference is no registrar refers to the paper-based system as ‘electronic,’” Slocum said. “She uses ‘electronic’ and I think it just wasn’t very clear in her draft.”

Everyone gets a little bit of the blame in this one. A first draft of anything novel like this is going to be imperfect. Registrars like Slocum may also misunderstand intentions. And we, perhaps, could have more clearly characterized the matter by writing instead something like, “Slocum thinks Bowen needs to ensure her review proposal clearly intends to include
all voting devices in the state, such as optical scan machines that count paper ballots. The way he and other registrars who are members of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) see it, the proposal is more narrowly aimed primarily at electronic voting systems.”

Slocum also shared with us his own written comments that he sent to Bowen on the matter. As we had characterized in the story, “a review of this magnitude should include all voting devices and not just focus on the electronic environment,” Slocum stated in his letter. “There is adequate information available to indicate the areas of the elections process most prone to failure, error and/or fraud – it seems to me that these issues are magnified in a paper-based system.”

Slocum received this email response to his letter from one of Bowen’s staffers, which he also shared with us.

“Just FYI, there’s a misconception in your letter – and in the CACEO’s talking points with the press – that the review doesn’t propose to cover paper-based systems. It does and we think that’s pretty clear in the draft criteria where it discusses vote tabulation devices as defined in Elections Code Section 358.”

However, the staffer also acknowledged the imperfections of the first draft that perhaps caused the confusion in the first place.

“The final criteria will certainly be clearer on that point,” he wrote.

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