news feature
October 28, 2005

 

Electronic voting systems considered and challenged at public hearing
by Rhiannon Ross

Integrity in the way votes are counted is crucial to a democracy, activist Ben Kjelshus recently told the Kansas City Election Board. And the use of electronic voting systems could compromise this integrity, he said.

"Hundreds of electronic election malfunctions have been reported in newspapers in recent years, more than 125 of them from the 2004 election alone," Kjelshus read from his testimony.

Kjelshus (pronounced "Chelsus") was among several Kansas Citians who presented written testimony expressing concern over the proposed purchase of electronic voting machines at a public hearing held by the KCEB on Oct. 20. The KCEB could make a decision concerning the purchase of new electronic voting machines as early as their next regular board meeting on Nov. 17, said KCEB Democratic Director of Elections Sharon Turner Buie.

But malfunctions are not the only concern Kjelshus has regarding the use of electronic voting machines. Manipulation of voting data also poses a threat to voter integrity, he said.

"Electronic voting machines are developed by anonymous software engineers hired by manufacturers and vendors, with no public accounting of the process," Kjelshus said. "This is a result of the corporatization of the election system, and it must be considered a crime."

While Missouri state law requires all voting systems maintain a paper ballot, Kjelshus believes "It is crucial that the paper ballot not be interpreted as a bar code on roll-up type receipt paper or some other type of receipt that is not voter-verifiable and that does not lend itself to be hand counted."

Michelle Krajewski, representing The Whole Person — a nonprofit agency supporting the rights of the disabilities community — spoke at the hearing in support of the purchase of electronic, touch screen voting machines because of their accessibility for the physically and visually challenged.

Turner Buie agreed that accessibility is a key factor the board must consider in transferring to electronic voting machines.

"Frankly, we must have accessible machines at each poll for the disabilities community," she said.

But Kjelshus, in a later telephone interview, said he believes companies manufacturing electronic voting machines are using the disabilities community as "a sort of Trojan Horse" to sell their wares. "Because there are now non-electronic voting machine methods that make it possible to deal with the needs of the disabled population," he said.

Kjelshus said he learned of a paper ballot system designed for the visual or dexterity handicapped — called the Voting on Paper Assistive Device or V-PAD — while attending the National Summit to Save Our Elections in Portland, OR, in September.

"It is an inexpensive, non-electronic, voter-assist alternative that helps most people with visual or dexterity impairments to vote independently," he said, reading from summit literature.

Turner Buie said she was unaware of any non-electronic voting device that could be used by the disabilities community.

Kjelshus said he is not surprised.

"Salesmen would rather sell their kind of goods. Larger establishments want control of our election system so they can manipulate it," he said.

Turner Buie said the KCEB only could make voting machine purchases from five eligible companies — Accupoll, Diebold, ES&S, Populex, and Sequoia.

All five companies, she said, had been certified by the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office and underwent "a rigorous review process," which included "outside, independent examination of the (electronic voting) machines."

The committee was comprised of various organizations, election officials and IT specialists, said Turner Buie.

However, some activists have criticized companies such as Diebold for being a supporter of President Bush. "There is definite evidence that Diebold made big contributions to the Bush campaign," Kjelshus said.

Diebold is trying to quell both activists and consumers’ concerns about the accuracy and integrity of their electronic voting systems. On their Web site, they have posted a letter to activists (http://www.diebold.com/dieboldes/pdf/activistletter.pdf), as well as responded to what they claim are "false accusations circulating on the Internet" about the accuracy of electronic voting machines (www.diebold.com/dieboldes/pdf/rebuttal.pdf).

But Kjelshus said he’s not buying the rhetoric. "Transparency is still essential to election integrity," he said.

At the hearing, he recommended several precautions the KCEB take should they proceed with the purchase of electronic voting machines.

These included using voter-verified, paper ballots suitable for hand counting, counting all votes publicly and locally in the presence of citizen representatives and the media, conducting random audits during the voting process, and appointing oversight of all voting procedures and software to local election directors and independent examiners.

"Citizens who believe in a real democracy," he said, "have to seriously question."

Rhiannon Ross is an associate editor for eKC online. She can be contacted at Rhiannross@aol.comor publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.



              
              
                 

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