UPDATE: A bill has been introduced in the California Legislature, AB969, that seems aimed at Shasta County's move to hand counting ballots. Perhaps a Constitutional Amendment is in order!
Statement of Support for Shasta County Board of Supervisor's Decision to Return to Hand Counting of Ballots
We stand in solidarity with the brave Shasta County Supervisors who made the bold step towards returning to hand counting paper ballots. Indeed, how ballots are counted is a decision the legislature intended for the Counties to make, as reflected in Election Code section 19207 (Sections 15270-15281 and 15290 further detail how ballots are counted by hand).
Concerns about voting machines are not limited to one political party or ideology. While most objections today come from conservatives, objections from the left have been loudly voiced against electronic voting for some time. For example, The Brennan Center for Justice and press including the New York Times, CNN, Salon, and Politico, among others, have raised concerns or objections to using computers to tabulate our votes since 20041. In 2004, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee2 (D-TX) called for an “independent audit of the election results”. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) all raised concerns about voting system vulnerability as late as 20193. Even Kamala Harris and Hilary Clinton have voiced concerns about voting machines and election results4,5.
Until the Legislature and Secretary of State can open the source code of the voting machines to public review, we cannot see with full transparency how voting machines operate. Votes go in, and numbers come out, but the public cannot view nor verify what the software did. Elections are not routinely subjected to a quality control comparison of all the paper ballots to the final result generated by the voting system. In fact, discussing the 2016 General Election in the 2017 House hearing “Cybersecurity of Voting Machines”6, Congressman Paul Mitchell (D-MI) stated:
There were more votes counted than there were voters, and there were 328 that were listed as voting but the ballots never showed in the count. That meant that 60 percent of the precincts in the city of Detroit weren't auditable. I guess my point is, is you couldn't do a recount. I think something we need to encourage the States to do is have an audit system where we raise these issues of why those disparities, and how we prevent them. Because that's--if, in fact, we need to do a recount, it was not possible to do within the city and several other jurisdictions.
Voting machines count images of paper ballots. Counting ballot images operates on the assumption that the ballot image always matches the original paper ballot, and that the software accurately transfers the information collected from the ballot image to the final tally. Without public access to the source code of the voting systems, we cannot verify if this is true.
The public is prevented from analyzing the records behind the results. It is difficult for members of the public to obtain data and reports from the voting systems via public records requests. While San Francisco County voters enjoy a high degree of transparency in detailed election records7, citizens in most California counties are often left in the dark. Moreover, although any voter can request a recount, the price to perform a recount of only one race in a small county is prohibitive8. Anybody who questions the process or results is systematically labeled an “election denier” and derided in the media.
Proponents of using the voting machines would argue that the 1% manual audit done at the close of each election is sufficient to verify the results generated by the voting system. But those same audits regularly have inconsistencies that are only superficially addressed. Even here in Nevada County, the 1% manual audit of the June 2022 Primary Election came up one paper ballot short9, out of a batch of only 25 ballots cast on a single in-person ballot scanner. That represents an error rate in gross excess of the federally-allowed 1/500,000 rate. The sample size of the post-election quality control audit should be larger, especially when any discrepancies between the paper ballots and the machine’s totals are found.
Using computers to count votes has also ushered in cybersecurity concerns that have resulted in the federal government taking an ever-increasing role in surveilling county elections. The installation of “Albert Sensors” in most counties nationwide has come with agreements with Non-Governmental Organizations such as CIS and MS-ISAC, and storage of the data collected on Amazon Cloud services10. The public has no oversight of these private organizations and cannot request records under FOIA or other “Sunshine” laws. Moreover, on May 12, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order11 14028 further codifying federal surveillance of county agencies into law and binding county agencies in contracts with CISA. Why is the federal government so intent on electronically surveilling county election systems that are not even connected to the internet12?
Hand counting keeps accountability in local precincts where regular citizens can witness that the process is fair and honest. Mail-in ballots, opened and tabulated at a central counting location, take accountability out of precincts and makes lawfully challenging a voter - as was intended by Elections Code13 14240 – almost impossible. Even with no postmark, county election officials consider ballots to be cast on time by county election officials if the date the voter signed the envelope is on or before Election Day14. Candidates are often left biting their nails well after election day while an overstressed elections office tries to keep up. In contrast, reporting final results on election night gives voters and candidates peace of mind and confidence in the results.
We the people have every right to determine how our elected officials and government workers count our votes. The time has come for a change – a change which Shasta County Supervisors have courageously brought. We support your courage, standing up for the citizens in your county to return to hand counting paper ballots.
1. “Hacking America's Computerized Voting System: 110 Articles Affirm America's Computerized Voting System Is Online, Compromised, and Vulnerable To Hackers: Documented, Linked, and Quoted” https://kanekoa.substack.com/p/110-articles-affirm-americas-computerized?s=r
2.2004 Forum on Ohio Vote in 2004 Election https://www.c-span.org/video/?c5017435/user-clip-rep-sheila-jackson-lee-2004-election-free-clear-transparent-real
3. “Ranking Members Klobuchar, Warner, Reed, and Peters Press Election Equipment Manufacturers on Security” https://www.klobuchar.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news-releases?ID=CB7B78C2-5313-4FA2-AB83-B4A7C85201F9
5. “12 Minutes of Democrats Denying Election Results” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX2Ejqjz6TA&ab_channel=GOP
6. House Hearing “Cybersecurity of Voting Machines” https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-115hhrg30295/html/CHRG-115hhrg30295.htm
7. San Francisco November 8, 2022 Final Election Results - Detailed Reports https://sfelections.sfgov.org/november-8-2022-election-results-detailed-reports
8. Recount Estimate for Nevada County Clerk-Recorder, June 7, 2022 Primary https://yubanet.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Full-Recount-Estimate_County-Clerk-Recorder-2022.pdf
10. “Why the Center for Internet Security moved its storage to the cloud” https://statescoop.com/why-the-center-for-internet-security-moved-its-storage-to-the-cloud/
11. Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/05/12/executive-order-on-improving-the-nations-cybersecurity/
12. California Elections Code Section 19205 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=19205.&lawCode=ELEC
13. California Elections Code Section 14240 https://www.leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=14240&lawCode=ELEC
14. “USPS Frequently Asked Questions” https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voter-registration/vote-mail/usps-frequently-asked-questions-faqs