Tag Archives: top-to-bottom review

Debra Bowen’s Top-To-Bottom Review of E-Voting Systems Underway

(cross-posted from Courage Campaign)

On May 9, Secretary of State Debra Bowen unveiled her unprecedented plan for a top-to-bottom review of California's elections systems. This is exactly what she promised to do as Secretary of State and she is delivering in a big way. Echoing language she used on the campaign trail last year, she said in a statement:

“California voters are entitled to have their votes counted exactly as they were cast. This top-to-bottom review is designed with one goal in mind: to ensure that California’s voters cast their ballots on voting systems that are secure, accurate, reliable, and accessible.”

The review, which began on Monday and will continue through late July, will test the Los Angeles County Ink A Vote Optical Scan system as well as systems by Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia among others, a total of 8 in all on a randomly determined schedule.

Details over the flip…

The review is being conducted in cooperation with the University of California and entails the following:

  • UC will provide specialists from its campuses, as well as experts from public and private universities and private sector companies throughout the United States to create three teams of experts to conduct the reviews.
  • Each system will undergo a thorough document and source code review, red team penetration testing, and a review to determine whether it’s accessible to all voters.
  • The review teams will provide an independent technical evaluation of the voting systems that the Secretary of State will use to carry out her statutory duty with respect to voting systems in determining whether the systems comply with current state and federal law.

In plain terms, the sitting Secretary of State of the largest state in the nation, which has to date spent $480 million on electronic voting systems, has enlisted a team of experts to hack into the voting systems  to determine whether or not they are secure. And who better to hack into these systems than those who've done it before including  Ed Felten from Princeton and Harri Hursti of 'Hursti Hack' fame.

Once the review is complete, there will be a period of public comment on the results, which, Bowen sees as falling into one of three categories:

"The first possibility is that a system will be found to be secure, accurate, reliable and accessible as it stands, so voters can have confidence when they use it on Election Day. Second, a system may be required to use additional safeguards, such as an expanded post-election audit process. The third possibility is that a voting system can’t be made secure, accurate, reliable and accessible even with additional safeguards, so that system may be decertified, which means it could not be used for any election in 2008.”

Needless to say, neither the system vendors, nor the county registrars of voters are particularly pleased with these tough measures, considering Bowen is required to announce if a system will be decertified by August 5 (6 months prior to the next election) and the review won't conclude until late July. It's easy folks, create (or purchase, as the case may be) a secure elections system in the first place and you have nothing to worry about, do you? The first sign of resistance on their part can be viewed in the public comments on Bowen's draft criteria for the top-to-bottom review, which she released in March. In a display of transparency that has marked Bowen's career, you can read all comments, by vendors, counties and public alike, HERE. Bowen is continuing to accept public comments on the top-to-bottom review even as it is underway at [email protected].

I applaud Secretary Bowen's top-to-bottom review and her unwavering commitment to transparency and free and fair elections. This is what happens when people rather than corporate interests propel a candidate to victory: she works first and foremost for us. Yes, elections do have consequences.

We'll be following the review's progress and will support her when she is attacked, which has already begun. If this issue is of particular importance to you, join us in our California Election Protection group.

To close, I think Debra herself put it best: 

“Democracy, by definition, is about free, fair and open elections,” concluded Bowen. “My goal is to have election results that are beyond question or doubt. Right now, far too many voters are wondering about the accuracy of California’s election results. We have three statewide elections next year, which makes it even more essential that our voting equipment be secure, accurate, reliable and accessible.”