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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Instant runoff voting is a trojan horse - letter by Voting activist to Cary Town Council

Verified Voting activist warns Instant Runoff Voting is a trojan horse. This is a letter sent on April 29, 2009 to the Cary North Carolina City Council by Andrew G Silver, Co Founder of the NC Coalition for Verified Voting.


Dear Mr. Mayor and Cary Town Council Members:

I paste here, and also attach, in case there might be distortions in email transmission, a three-page discussion of my reasons for opposing IRV, based on the history of the struggle to ensure verified voting in North Carolina. I speak only for myself, not my colleagues, who have further reasons for opposing IRV.

IRV as a Trojan Horse for Automation of Elections and Faith-based Voting

The next eight paragraphs are about the struggle for verified voting in North Carolina and the opposition to it. They lead to the final three paragraphs explaining how IRV threatens verified voting, hence election integrity. I apologize for the length, but I think that it is important to understand the background to appreciate the extent to which the integrity of our elections has been impaired in the past and still is threatened.

The verified voting movement in North Carolina became necessary in early 2004 when some of us learned of the number and seriousness of breakdowns and irregularities of vote counts attributable to use of paperless direct recording electronic machines (DREs). We also learned that the state board of elections was largely at fault, as it tended to advocate DREs and exhibited no understanding of the need for standards and tests of equipment for accuracy, security, and reliability. Moreover, existing organizations that ought to have been concerned – ACLU, NAACP, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and Democracy NC - all were oblivious to the cause of election integrity.

North Carolina in 2004 had a hodgepodge of different voting machines in different counties, some probably reliable, but others from manufacturers such as Diebold and Unilect, subsequently found to have serious design flaws. It was a Unilect machine that led subsequently to the loss of 4500 votes in Carteret County in the 2004 election. Moreover, state and county election officials were very active in The Election Center, the organization of the National Association of Election Officials, which strongly advocates electronic voting, and is skeptical of paper ballots and auditing of elections. Its executive director, Doug Lewis, admittedly has expertise in computers. Before coming to the Election Center, he owned a business in Texas selling used computer equipment. For an example of Election Center propaganda see Mr. Lewis’s testimony to Congress at , particularly pages 3-7.

When the NC Coalition for Verified Voting began pushing the General Assembly first to place a moratorium on paperless electronic voting, then to enact a more comprehensive election reform bill, we did so on our own dime. We are not being paid for our advocacy, unlike the staff of Fair Vote and Democracy NC. We simply wish to have elections in NC that are honest, accurate, and publicly verifiable so that the integrity of elections will not depend on trusting either election officials or the voting machine manufacturers.

After the passage of the Public Confidence in Elections Act of 2005, and leading up to the elections of 2006, I attended most meetings of the Wake County Board of Elections in which was discussed the choice of new equipment to be purchased to comply with the new law as well as with the Federal HAVA law. During this period, Professor Gilbert as chairman of the board was a hero to me and my colleagues for steadfastly insisting on optically scanned paper ballots that can be simply preserved, audited, and recounted to verify elections, with a possible exception for use of DREs for handicapped voters. Cherie Poucher, for whom I have the highest respect as an honest and exceptionally capable election professional, just as steadfastly advocated purchase of DREs for early voting – touchscreen voting machines that up until then had been paperless so that voters simply had to have faith, with no proof, that the computer recorded and counted their votes as they intended. In order to comply with the Public Confidence in Elections Act, DREs in 2006 had to have a voter verifiable paper record as a cash register-like paper roll, but this enhancement was usually ignored by the voter, nearly worthless for auditing purposes, and unacceptable to verified voting advocates. The point of voter verification is that the ballot that is counted should be physically the same ballot as that on which the voter marks their vote. Having a paper roll on a DRE that a voter can look at, but usually does not, is not really helpful for verification. The tally used as the election result is not from the paper roll but from the electronic record, which can be falsified by faulty computer code. The paper is helpful only for an audit or recount, but the paper roll is so difficult to examine that the audit can not readily be witnessed publicly and is also prone to error.

Nevertheless, Ms. Poucher wanted Wake County to have DREs for early voting. The other two board members sided with her, outvoting Dr. Gilbert, so that the BOE decided to have touchscreen voting machines in Wake County. The purchase of DREs was stopped only by my colleagues and myself in NCCVV, with help from no other group – not from Democracy NC, not from the League of Women Voters, not from Fair Vote. We took the argument to the Wake County Board of Commissioners, where on February 13, 2006, we persuaded the commissioners to reject the decision of the BOE and preserve paper ballots for Wake County in early voting as well as on election day.

My impression from testimony during the hearings in 2004 and 2005 of the General Assembly’s Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting that led to the Public Confidence in Elections Act is that election officials generally, as is true for any profession, defend their own professional interests first and the public interest second. One of their professional interests is convenience. They prefer that their jobs be made easier, not more difficult. Hence they have tended to side with advocates of computerized paperless voting, which relieves of them of a whole lot of work, like counting ballots. As practiced in many North Carolina counties before passage of the 2005 law, tabulation of votes by DRE was under the control of the private vendors and their unexamined software, not of the boards of elections.

Strong advocates of DREs during the hearings were the SBOE representatives, executive director Gary Bartlett and board member Robert Cordle. Possibly because of their influence, the law unfortunately still allows the use of DREs with the silly paper rolls. The bias of the entire SBOE in favor of a particular DRE manufacturer was exposed after the law was enacted when they voted to certify Diebold DREs for North Carolina, even though Diebold clearly would not comply with the provision of the law requiring that the computer code for the machines be placed in escrow for independent review. The certification would have gone through if Joyce McCloy of NCCVV, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, had not sued to stop it. The Diebold machines were subsequently found to be poorly functioning and insecure by the states of Maryland and California.

Now we are again battling to preserve election integrity – not just paper ballots, but election simplicity and transparency, allowing voters to be confident in the manual audits and recounts of their votes, even to observe them if they wish.

If IRV were widely used, the far more complicated voting procedures would put great pressure on election officials. Given the layers of complication that IRV adds to the counting of ballots, most election officials (excepting Dr. Gilbert), given their professional proclivities, are bound to favor conversion to touch screen voting to allow computer programs to do all the work, obviating keeping track of paper ballots, sorting them into piles, and scanning them multiple times. The NC law that now protects the integrity of election administration to some extent might slow the return to computerized voting, but the pressure from election officials would grow from election to election.

So IRV advocates really need to ask themselves whether they would be willing to change from paper ballots to touchscreen voting with all its proven insecurity, difficulty of auditing, and hiding of the tabulation process from public view. Do they wish to have faith-based voting, in which they can vote on the touchscreen but then must have faith that the computer is programmed absolutely correctly to tabulate their votes as they intended? With IRV we might have one or two or three elections using optical scan, but afterward, unless a major social revolution occurs among election officials to favor counting of paper ballots over automation, pressure from the election officials probably will lead to automation of elections. The susceptibility of elections to fraud or major tabulation errors will be vastly increased and actual fraud and miscounts almost impossible to detect.

We are taught that we live in a democracy. But we can not know that we do unless we are eternally vigilant, and keep a close watch on our elections and how the votes are counted. Otherwise, we can not know, but only have faith, that we live in a democracy.


Andy Silver
103 Danforth Dr.
Cary, NC 27511

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