Elections Washington State Politics

Rebuttal to canned talking points from WA Secretary of State on voting

An outstanding public citizen requested some answers from the Washington Secretary of State about the concealed counting going on inside our computerized vote-counting system. Predictably, she received a set of canned talking points.

Below the canned talking points is a point-by-point rebuttal from Black Box Voting.


TALKING POINT: We have a state law that requires every electronic voting machine to have a paper backup, referred to as a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.

THE TRUTH: The public is not allowed to examine the paper trail.

TALKING POINT: After each election, each county randomly chooses up to 4% of their electronic voting machines for an audit, where they compare the electronic votes to the paper audit trail for three races to verify that they match.

THE TRUTH: This is not an audit, it is a spot check, and it is controlled by the same people who program the system and control chain of custody for absentee ballots.

TALKING POINT: All paper trails can withstand multiple recounts or audits, and the image will last up to seven years.

THE TRUTH: That’s nice, but the public is not permitted to examine these ballots, ever, even after the election and all recount and contest periods have expired.

TALKING POINT: Our state has very good recount laws to ensure the accuracy of a count in close elections.

a) A recount is only performed after chain of custody breaks. No “after the fact” recount authenticates the original count.

b) In Washington State, no recount is mandated unless the candidates are within less than 1/4% of the total votes cast for both candidates, and also less than 1,000 votes.

c) Ballots need not be hand counted, even in a recount. In Feb. 2012, a court ruled that election officials “have no clear, legal duty to recount the ballots in the manner requested.”

Almost no candidate can get a public hand recount in Washington. All they do is run the ballots through the computer again.

This is not a “recount” but is more accurately described as a “reprint.”

TALKING POINT: Our elections are run by county auditors using certified voting systems.

THE TRUTH: What this is saying is “Trust us. We will verify the election for you.”

That is not the same as allowing the public to see the essential accounting itself. The right to authenticate our own elections is an inalienable right, derived from the right to self government.

According to the US Constitution, our representatives are to be chosen by the people. The People cannot transfer this right to the government. Any election run by the government must also ensure that the public can see and authenticate all essential steps.

The government cannot be in control of choosing itself.

TALKING POINT: The voting systems have been tested by independent test laboratories and when installed, cannot be changed.

a) Testing labs are paid by the vendors. They keep their reports secret from the public.

b) These labs test only what the vendor tells them to test. They have also been caught omitting key tests.

c) Saying “the installations cannot be changed” does not mean “the votes cannot be altered.”

d) Votes and vote totals can be altered whether or not electronic vote counting software is an approved version. A computer can only do what it is told to do.

e) The mitigation for vote tampering is not pretesting a software specimen. The mitigation is public ability to see the actual vote counting.

TALKING POINT: The machines are certified at the national level, tested and certified by our state and tested by the county.

THE TRUTH: This refers to basic usability tests which have nothing to do with deliberate alteration of vote totals. Basically, they take a prepared set of known ballots, run them through the machine, see that the buttons work. But this has no relation to what happens to the votes in any given election.

Imagine this: You work as a teller at a bank. They decide to remove the video camera that shows you counting the cash. Instead, they give you a pretest to “detect whether you might tamper at some point in the future.” Pretests can help detect incompetence in the election setup, but there is no pretest anywhere that can predict alteration of the count at a later date and time.

There IS a way to detect vote tampering, and it is transparency. The public must be allowed to check whether actual voted ballots match electronically reported counts.

TALKING POINT: The machines are then locked and sealed until put into use.

THE TRUTH: Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. We always hear this statement and we also regularly see that some machines weren’t sealed; that they were accessed by technicians or elections insiders mid-election; or that crucial transactions are missing from or added to the vote-counting computer’s audit logs.

Even if machines were sealed, since computers can only do what they are instructed to do by their administrator, locking and sealing has no bearing on inside access or actual manipulation of the count.

Historically, tampering by insiders is the most common form of election fraud.

TALKING POINT: Each election there are random audits to compare the vote counts to the actual paper ballots to make sure they match.

a) When public citizens watch the random spot checks (which are not “audits” at all), they often see that the vote counts do not match.  Nothing is done about that, and the spot check is not expanded when the sample does not match.

b) A random spot check is not protective against alteration of the count by someone with inside access. At best, spot checks may detect accidental error, but they do not detect deliberate alteration. Those controlling the spot check also control ballot chain of custody.

c) By the time a spot check is done, chain of custody is broken. No after the fact audit or recount can substitute for public right to see the original count.

d) No partial count authenticates the whole pool. The public must be able to authenticate the count of the whole, not just a part of the count.

There are all kinds of games with after-the-fact “random” spot checks. The random is not truly random; The ballots were substituted, ditched,
altered before the count; the race chosen for counting is hand-picked…

e) The public is not allowed to do the spot check. It is assigned to an entity chosen by the same people who run the election.

Basically, “We will do a random spot check” means “Go away, we will authenticate this for you. You cannot authenticate it yourself.”

TALKING POINT: Most voters vote on paper ballots, so do not vote on the electronic machines

THE TRUTH: All votes in Washington are counted electronically. This is a bait and switch. The 99.99% of ballots counted by optical scan computer are electronically counted, even though they are paper ballots. Your attention was diverted to the tiny quantity of votes on accessible machines for voters with disabilities, implying that only those are electronic.

All Washington votes are counted electronically. The public has no method to validate the electronic count.

TALKING POINT: Ballot counts are checked each day to verify the number of voters match the number of ballots cast on the machines.

THE TRUTH: Still bait and switch. The above sentence refers only to a tiny quantity of votes cast on accessible machines by the disabled.  However, nearly all votes cast in Washington are absentee mail-in  votes. The public cannot “verify the number of voters matches the number of ballots” with absentee voting.

With absentee voting, the public can never see who actually put the ballot into the system. Compare this with polling place voting, where the public can watch real, live, warm bodied people enter the polling place and cast a vote.

With absentee voting, the public can only see a report generated by the same insiders who control the voting system.

The public never sees who actually voted, doubling the vectors available for vote count alteration: With absentee voting, the count can be altered by adding, substracting, changing, or substituting ballots before the machine counts them; and also by alteration of the electronic counting process itself, because electronic counting is hidden from the public.

TALKING POINT: We are committed to running fair, accurate, transparent and auditable elections.

THE TRUTH: Washington State is not committed to running transparent elections because the entire premise in Washington elections is that only the government can validate the selection of itself.

* * * * *

Original letter from state of Washington:

Thank you for your email concerning Washington State’s voting systems, and what we are doing to protect citizen voting. Secretary Reed has asked me to respond.

Our elections are run by county auditors, using certified voting systems. The voting systems have been tested by independent test laboratories, and when installed, cannot be changed. We check hash codes on the installed software to make sure there has been no tampering. They are certified at the National Level, tested and certified by our state and tested by the county when purchased. They are tested before each election to ensure that each response position is recording votes correctly.

The machines are then locked and sealed until put into use. Each election there are random audits to compare the vote counts to the actual paper ballots to make sure they match.

Most voters vote on paper ballots, so do not vote on the electronic machines you mention below, but we do have some electronic voting machines for accessible voting. Less than one percent of our votes are on these machines. These machines are supervised at all times, and locked up when not in use. Ballot counts are checked each day to verify the number of voters match the number of ballots cast on the machines.

We have a state law that requires every electronic voting machine to have a paper backup, referred to as a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. After each election, each county randomly chooses up to 4% of their electronic voting machines for an audit, where they compare the electronic votes to the paper audit trail for three races to verify that they match. All paper trails can withstand multiple recounts or audits, and the image will last up to seven years.

Our state has very good recount laws to ensure the accuracy of a count in close elections. Thousands of contests have been recounted by machine and in extremely close elections they are recounted by hand. The recounts have demonstrated the fundamental accuracy of the voting systems.

We are committed to running fair, accurate, transparent and auditable elections.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Patty Murphy
Voting Systems Specialist Elections Division
Office of the Secretary of State

(originally published at http://www.bbvforums.org/cgi-bin/forums/show.cgi?285/81955)



One Reply to “Rebuttal to canned talking points from WA Secretary of State on voting

  1. The above talking point rebuttals reference a lawsuit. Here’s a little
    more about that:

    A copy of the above court decision is

    This court decision demonstrates clearly that the right to examine the
    ballots, even for the political parties, and even the so-called right
    to check the results of the voting machines, will not be honored.

    The Chairman of the Spokane Republican Party asked to compare the
    machine count for batches of ballots to a hand count; the county
    auditor, who was running in the election, declined the request. The
    requestor, Cindy Zapotocky of the Spokane Republican Party, attempted
    to use recount law to conduct a comparison of the ballots, and paid
    for the recount.

    The request was denied because the county auditor claimed she did not
    have to compare the ballot batch with the batch total. Instead, she
    said they only have to compare precinct tallies with a combined,
    multi-batch tally of the precincts.

    Note that the county auditor, Vicky Dalton, both ran the election and
    was running in the election, and it was for Vicky Dalton’s race the
    recount was requested. The court ruled that Vicky Dalton had the
    discretionary ability to grant the request but she could choose not to
    do so.

    The request was to take a voting machine batch and hand count see if
    it matched the voting machine’s reported results. The method offered
    by Vicky Dalton would not provide a way to compare the voting machine
    batch report with the actual ballots in that batch.

    In other words, you need to compare apples to apples when comparing
    ballots to a voting machine report. If absentee machines count
    mixed-precinct batches, you have to count the batch.

    There is a way around this. Precincts contain machine-readable codes
    that allow ballots to be batched together by precinct before counting.
    Spokane, apparently, chose to use a methodology that, according to
    their successful argument in court, can prevent comparing apples to
    apples, thus, effectively blocks validation of the electronic batch

    Not only is the government counting and authenticating its own
    election, but the actual government official running for office is
    running and determining the rules of authentication for her own race.

    Zapotaocky took it to court; the judge ruled in favor of Vicky Dalton,
    who therefore never had to prove that the machines counted correctly
    in her own race.

    For the canvassing board, charged with conducting the recount, the
    auditor appointed her second in command to oversee the canvass since
    she was running in the race.

    That link looks a little wonky. In the Washington – Spokane County
    forum I’ll print the full text of the decision.

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