The trustworthiness of voting was an issue in the 2002 election, and it is still an issue today. This press release is now twelve years old:
Friday, October 11, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- An
appeal has been filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the
constitutionality of the new Direct Recording Electronic (DRE)
"touchscreen" voting machines in use in Riverside County, Calif.
The suit was brought by Susan Marie Weber, a Palm Desert resident, against
Bill Jones, California's Secretary of State, and Riverside County Registrar of
Voters Mischelle Townsend.
Weber said she first became alarmed over the electronic computer voting
machines after reading a report by the combined computer experts at CalTech and
MIT. That report raised serious concerns about the touchscreen machines,
painting what it called "A Provocative Scenario":
A programmer at SlickVotingMachines Corp. adds malicious code to a DRE
(Direct Recording Electronic device) machine for the California 2004
Presidential election, so that every fiftieth vote for a Republican candidate
is changed to a vote for the corresponding Democratic candidate. This only
happens when the machine is in “real” mode as opposed to “test” mode,
so the election officials never discover the fraud during their testing. The
electronic audit trail made by the DRE machine is also affected, so “recounts”
never discover anything amiss.
Plaintiff Weber alleged that voters could never know for sure that their
preference had been recorded accurately, or that their votes, once recorded,
would not be manipulated, either fraudulently or by a "glitch," and
that in the event of a contested election, the absence of an independently
auditable "paper trail" rendered a meaningful recount impossible.
Weber asked the court to order defendants to add paper ballot printers to the
In Federal District Court, Defendants Jones and Townsend responded that the
machines were constitutional, by virtue of their
- Eliminating the loss of votes due to damaged, mismarked or over-voted
- Improving the ability to conduct early voting programs.
- Improving access to voters with disabilities.
- Enabling counties to provide ballots in multiple languages.
(as reported in an
article by Christine Mahr
in the Desert Sun).
Weber answered that Defendants' response utterly missed the point of the
- Even if your vote was not rejected because it was not "damaged,
mismarked or over-voted," you still cannot verify that your vote was
recorded accurately, and your vote may still be negated by fraud or error
which cannot be detected by voter authorities.
- Even if you vote in "early voting programs," you still cannot
verify that your vote was recorded accurately, and your vote may still be
negated by fraud or error which cannot be detected by voter authorities.
- Even if you are a disabled person enjoying improved access, you still
cannot verify that your vote was recorded accurately, and your vote may
still be negated by fraud or error which cannot be detected by voter
- Even if you cast a paperless vote on the DRE machine in the language of
your choice, you still cannot verify that your vote was recorded accurately,
and your vote may still be negated by fraud or error which cannot be
detected by voter authorities.
Plaintiff Weber submitted declarations by three well-known experts in
computer voting, including a member of the Internet Voting Task Force assembled
by Defendant Bill Jones, and another computer expert who was recently invited to
testify before the U.S. House of Representatives' hearing on Voting Technology.
All three experts agreed that the Secretary of State cannot fulfill his
statutory obligation to ensure that the DRE voting machines are "safe from
fraud or manipulation" (California
Elections Code §19205) without an independently auditable "paper
The judge hearing the case, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson,
disagreed, concluding that the State's interest in easy, attractive voting
machines which might increase voter turnout outweighed the voters' interest in
"This is a decision that erases any questions as to the accuracy,
validity and accountability of touch-screen voting in California,"
Secretary of State Bill Jones said.
"ERASES ANY QUESTIONS?" responded Peter
Neumann emphatically; "Wow! That is a huge stretch." Neumann,
principal scientist at SRI International
Computer Laboratories in Palo Alto, CA, was the third witness brought to
court by Plaintiff Weber. "I hope you combat that specifically in any press
statements," he urged.
In spite of Defendant Secretary of State Jones' enthusiasm, Kim
Alexander of the California Voter
Foundation says dissatisfaction with paperless touchscreen voting is far
from over, but rather is just beginning. "I anticipate there will be
many more lawsuits for years to come if we do not deploy this technology in a
more transparent manner," she said.
The Court accepted the Secretary of State's claim that "The
[touchscreen] System functions somewhat like an ATM" (Opinion, p.2). But
Alexander disagrees: "If it were like an ATM, we'd get something at the end
of the transaction -- either a receipt, or something of value
(cash/ballot). No one would use an ATM if they didn't get a receipt or
something of value at the end of the process."
Weber, who filed her appeal without the aid of an attorney, said voters
cannot know whether the counting machine counted the vote or created the vote,
is now looking for an attorney to advise her on the appeal.
In the meantime, Weber urges voters in "touchscreen" jurisdictions
to cast a paper absentee ballot.
- In Westberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 17 (1964), the Court
testified to the fundamental character of the right to vote: “No
right is more precious in a free country than that of having a choice in
the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens,
they must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the
right to vote is undermined.”
- Constitutional Scholar Lawrence Tribe, Harvard Law School
Experts in Weber vs. Jones
Voting Expert Rebecca
Mercuri's website || Declaration in Weber v. Jones
Peter Neumann -- SRI
International Computer Laboratories in Palo Alto, CA. || Declaration
in Weber v. Jones
California Voter Foundation, Kim
Alexander, President and Founder || Declaration
in Weber v. Jones
Opinion of the Court
Key case underlying court's decision:
v. TAKUSHI, 504 U.S. 428 (1992)