The very bedrock of our democracy is in serious jeopardy this holiday season, yet the problem is receiving virtually no attention from the mainstream media. All across this country in the next month or so, as holiday shoppers are rushing around buying gifts for their loved ones, state and local election officials are rushing into purchasing decisions of electronic voting equipment to comply with the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) deadlines of January 2006. These decisions will determine how our votes are counted or perhaps not counted for at least the next decade and they deserve some serious media attention and public scrutiny.
And it is remarkable that these vital decisions continue to be made despite the blistering criticism included in the recently released bi-partisan Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) 107-page report of the security of the electronic voting systems in America. The report included this chilling revelation: “Concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections resulting in the loss and miscount of votes.” And the report also contained this significant statement: “Federal efforts to improve security and reliability of electronic voting systems are under way, but key activities need to be completed.” (To date, there has been no media coverage of the GAO’s report.)
In San Francisco County, the San Francisco Department of Elections is less than a month away from signing a contract of up to $5 million to purchase Sequoia AVC Edge voting machines to satisfy HAVA requirements for disabled accessibility (one per precinct). In addition, the Department has decided to replace our current voting system with Sequoia optical scanning and tabulating equipment. Again, this transaction moves forward even as the integrity of these voting systems is under serious scrutiny.
And as pen is put to paper in San Francisco County, there is controversy in Sacramento over the state’s “re-certification” of Diebold AccuVote TSx voting equipment. The TSx machines were decertified by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson just this summer when they showed a 20% failure rate while undergoing vigorous testing. Twenty-five percent of California counties are poised to purchase these Diebold e-voting machines to satisfy HAVA requirements. There is palpable pressure on the Secretary of State to “re-certify” these Diebold machines so local election officials can meet the upcoming January 2006 deadline. This is yet another example of rushing into a decision about spending millions of dollars on equipment that is not transparent or reliable.
Upon the release of the GAO report in September, Representative Tom Davis (R-VA), Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Government Reform stated, “It is certainly disappointing that, despite the recommendations from federal organizations and non-governmental groups, many states still have not made progress to make sure their electronic voting systems are safe from fraud and can be relied on to accurately count votes.”
And Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) said, “The GAO report indicates that we need to get serious and act quickly to improve the security of electronic voting machines. The report makes clear that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in electronic voting systems – from the day that contracts are signed with manufacturers to the counting of electronic votes on Election Day. State and local officials are spending a great deal of money on machines without concrete proof that they are secure and reliable. American voters deserve better.”
We definitely deserve better. The media needs to do a better job of covering this issue. Our election officials need to make better and more informed choices about the way we vote instead of scrambling to meet deadlines which should and can be extended. Our votes are too important to be entrusted to questionable technology and equipment. The rush to purchase this voting equipment will only deepen the electoral confidence crisis that already exists in this country. Free and fair elections are at the foundation of our democracy and the vote must be the most sacred and secure treasure in the nation. Anything less is unacceptable.
Ed. note: The authors are from San Francisco.