April 27, 2009
Election integrity: Ensured or still in question?
Bill Risner: Full Transparency is the answer in achieving solid results - and public trust
The Pima County Democratic Party is in unanimous agreement that the accurate counting of our votes is fundamental, critical and non-negotiable. Some 1,500 of our volunteers work at each election to ensure the honesty of those elections. The recent RTA ballot count by the Attorney General’s office was a by-product of that effort but, by no means, a central focus. The central problem is that we use a computer system that makes cheating easy and detection difficult.
The RTA was endorsed by the Democratic Party. Our concerns had nothing to do with the plan. It had everything to do with the sworn affidavit in which the computer operator confessed to rigging the election on the instruction of his county bosses. That reported confession combined with our analysis of the database that revealed multiple anomalies consistent with such rigging required an investigation, in our view, to settle a supremely important question.
Local newspapers and the Republican and Libertarian parties joined in our request for a serious investigation. Since the ballots had been in the custody of Pima County officials for the past two and a half years, the issue of whether those ballots were the original ballots was a necessary issue to resolve. Pima County owns a ballot printing machine and the “GEMS” election software still contains all the printing instructions for that election. The original ballots were printed on an offset press by the Runbeck Company and Pima County’s ballot printing machine uses a laser printer. We asked the Attorney General to conduct a forensic examination itself, or to allow us to look at the ballots with a microscope to confirm that they were all offset-printed. The Attorney General refused both requests.
We noted that the simple non-destructive examination of sample ballots would serve our mutual goal of public confidence. Despite the presence of the microscope during the one-and-a-half weeks that the ballots were being counted, the Attorney General never permitted the examination of any ballots. We regret that he chose not to resolve that obvious issue since it was both important and easy to resolve.
However, our primary concern, by far, concerns future elections. The value of examining past election practices is to ensure that corrections and safeguards are in place for future elections. The entire election process is dependant on doing it right in the first place.
The common problem shared by all citizens in Pima County is that it is easy to cheat using our computer system and very difficult to do anything about it. The “easy-to-cheat” issue is agreed upon by all knowledgeable observers. Interestingly, those who know the most about computers are the least comfortable with them counting our votes using secret software instructions. Some sample quotes explain the problem.
“Because it can be easily manipulated, the bottom line in this whole thing is we’re only going to catch the stupid people, all right, because one could also alter the audit logs. One could do anything.” – Pima County Attorney’s Office Chief Civil Deputy, Chris Straub.
-iBeta report to the Arizona Attorney General: “During testing it was discovered that the GEMS software exhibits fundamental security flaws that make definitive validation of data impossible due to the ease of data and log manipulation.”
-David Jefferson, Ph.D.: “The security mechanisms that are there are ‘in general hopelessly inadequate to prevent manipulation of ballot records or vote totals by anyone with even a very short period of access to the system.”
-Arizona Election Director Joseph Kanefield: “…this is no secret. These issues have been known by not only our office but election offices all over the country.”
The “easy-to-cheat” problem must be combined with the impossibility to challenge any election. State law requires that an election challenge be filed within five days of the approval of the canvass with specific details as to why the outcome would have been different. The paper ballots cannot be examined. The electronic database cannot be examined within that narrow time frame and can be easily altered in any event. Finally, the courts have no jurisdiction after the five-day period. Therefore, it is impossible to challenge any crooked election. We know it is impossible and so do the election computer operators.
The answer is to use a graphic commercial scanner to scan all the ballots after they are counted and to make the totality of the ballots publicly available on the internet or other electronic means. Those ballots can then be counted by any person, candidate or political party using open-source free software.
-Bill Risner is a personal injury specialist trial attorney who has represented the Pima County Democratic Party in election matters.PS If this should be the reader's first exposure to this issue and you would like to know more, please see this blog and play the video.