What is wrong with current and proposed voting systems?
There is no way to verify the computer count or program.
Current laws apparently do not allow a hand count. There is no
way to verify the machine count—or
even that the machine counting program was not somehow hacked
or altered. A computer expert watching a machine counting
ballots knows little more than you do—because
he has no way of knowing exactly what code is governing the
computer program. In fair elections, average voters should be
able to track and understand the entire voting process. (See,
"How easy is it to alter a computer program?" below.)
Ballots are transported to the central voting location
before being hand-counted and signed by election judges.
In order to count ballots by computer, you must transport the
ballots to the central counting location. This transportation
makes the entire voting process highly vulnerable to
corruption. Further, it is impossible to avoid impropriety as
the county sheriff is occasionally on the very ballot he is
charged to guard. (In Salt Lake County, Sheriff Kennard was
very loose with the last ballots he was in-charge of for his
own party, ending in much controversy about his actions, see
Appendix: 2001 Salt Lake County Republican Party Convention.)
It takes few people to dramatically alter elections.
The current process provides numerous opportunities for a very
small group of people to dramatically alter an election,
ranging from counting machine program manipulation to
transportation to unsecured ballot boxes in the counting area.
Would the current electronic counting proposal make
manipulation more difficult? It would actually take fewer
people to hijack an election with computers. All you need to
do is access and manipulate the computer program to add
ballots, take away ballots, or change ballot results.
In many elections, millions of dollars in campaign spending
are at stake. That is enough to tempt the dishonest to
manipulate an election. The best way to prevent them is by
involving more people. The more people you involve the greater
the odds that someone will talk or make a mistake. By counting
votes at the voting location, we have a far greater chance of
voting "receipt" is preposterous.
In response to Citizen concerns, Lieutenant Governor Olene
Walker stated: "It would be okay if the voting machine gave
the voter a receipt."
Oh, really? Exactly what purpose would this voter "receipt"
serve? Would the receipt list the persons you voted for? Where
does this receipt get stored and for how long? Who would have
access to those receipts? And what good is a receipt if people
are denied access to a hand count, and are unable to verify
the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the computer count?
Duplicate ballots (not receipts), identical to the
programmed votes, must be hand tallied by election
Judges in front of citizen and candidate poll watchers and the
public, at the polling locations. This would verify the
computer count for that polling location. Such a count should
be officially recorded, signed by the election judges, and
then the ballots should be securely sealed and stored for
future verification if necessary. These ballots must only be
re-opened only in the presence of citizen and candidate poll
watchers. With these safeguards in place, it might actually
improve our elections.
If election judges are not required to count the ballots
at the polling locations in front of the public to verify
the totals, then we will lose control of our elections
altogether. The judge’s count of the ballots must be the
official count. Further, the printed ballot must not only be
identical to the ballot on the computer screen, but large
enough that the elderly are able to read and verify their vote
Shouldn’t we just trust our elected officials?
Over the years, we have given away our rights to control
and oversee our elections to the same incumbents (and/or their
buddies) who appear on the very ballot to be counted. Have we
lost our marbles? This makes as much sense as having customers
make change for themselves from the cash register of a
not checking the cash register after the customer leaves.
It doesn’t much matter whether you or I feel the elected
official is trustworthy. It is not fair to those elected
officials who are honest to put them in the position of having
their integrity questioned without any mechanism to prove that
they were honest and ethical. If you happen to think highly of
some of your elected officials, then you have all the more
reason to demand credibility, accuracy, and accountability.
The last people who should be in charge of counting ballots
for the people are government and elected officials. Think
about it. Citizens who give up the right to control
elections have surrendered ownership of those elections.
Conclusion: What do we do?
The answers are simple and would require nothing more than
Citizen urging and participation:
Demand of your
state legislators and county officials that ballots be
counted at the polling locations—by hand. (It is possible to
count them with election judges already in place.) For
legislator contact information, see our
Official Contact Information page.
citizen and candidate poll watchers and the public have
full, reasonable access to the entire counting process. The
results and recording from each polling location should then
be placed on the web for all Election Judges from the
polling locations, and the public to verify the results. Any
citizen affected by the results
should be able to call for another hand-count.
absentee ballots be opened, counted, and logged on Election
Day, in front of poll watchers, and the public. No storing
them in boxes and unsecured rooms.
- Restrict paid government employees and/or elected
officials from entering counting areas except in their own
voting district when observing as a member of the public.
This will aid in reducing the appearance of impropriety.
When the people count ballots and total the results, the
symbolic and actual power of the people increases. If ballots
are counted at the polling locations by Election Judges, who
are citizens, with poll watchers and the public
watching, elections will be fair and the specter of potential
fraud will dissipate.
Again, it is far more difficult to significantly manipulate
large quantities of paper ballots with many eyes watching at
many locations. It takes more people to pull off the dirty
deed, and more people means more chances for someone to make a
mistake and get caught. If fraud is happening, only one person
needs to see it to blow the whistle.
Some have argued that the logistics of hand counts at the
local level would be difficult and inconvenient. Imagine how
much more inconvenient it will be if we allow our elections to
be manipulated completely out of our control.
election horror stories & other information.
2002 Salt Lake County general election. These are my
observations "poll watching" election night at the SL County
elections while ballots where being counted. I arrived at the
County Administration Building around noon and spoke with the
Election Manager Mike Vu. After lunch they started counting
absentee ballots. They opened and organized them in a way to
be counted by machines that night. The ballots were fully
accessible to view by poll watchers at this time.
The tour (important to understand the rest clearly).
Mike Vu appeared as though he would be very accommodating.
He took us to the counting room and told us of the procedures
used in operating the counting machines. Mike also explained
how the machines would count the ballots, and send the data to
a central computer, which in turn would display the results on
the State and County Web pages. We continued the tour through
the building taking the path of the ballots. Mike explained
what would take place along the way.
First deputies would bring the ballots through the west
cafeteria door. County workers would then sort and move the
ballots to a table at the east cafeteria door by the entrance
hall. A person would then take the ballots to the entrance
hall to be checked. From the entrance hall the ballots would
be moved to the counting prep area to be organized just
outside the counting room. The trip would finally end with the
ballots placed in the counting machines inside the counting
Would we have full access to watch the counting?
After the tour, I asked Mike if we would have full access
to all these areas as poll watchers during the counting. Mike
said that we would.
The counting begins and some access is denied.
At about 8 pm the county employees took the absentee
ballots to the counting room. We followed right with the
ballots closely observing the process. This is when Mike told
us we were not allowed inside the counting room because it
would be too crowded, but that we could watch from the door. I
protested that we would be unable to monitor the computer from
that distance and angle. There was no way to compare what was
placed into the machines versus the outcome on the screen.
Nevertheless, we were refused access to the counting room. We
tried our best to watch from the door, but it was impossible
to see the monitors.
We were refused additional access.
When the district ballots started coming in we were allowed full
access to the rest of the areas as promised by Mike. That is,
until Sherry Swenson (the County Clerk who was a candidate
running for reelection on the very ballot to be counted)
showed up in the entrance hall. Swenson told us that we were
not allowed behind a certain line. I expressed that we were
poll watchers and were assured full access to all areas—with
the exception of the computer counting room. Swenson said that
it did not matter, that we were supposed to be behind the line
with everyone else. I asked Swenson how we were supposed to
watch the ballots? She passed the buck by claiming Dave
Yocom’s office had given those instructions (another candidate
on the ballot running for re-election—and
affiliated with the same party as Swenson).
We were also refused access to the cafeteria area
altogether. What happened to the ballots in that area is
anyone’s guess. Now all ballots coming in were as far as
a hundred feet away, with no way to be viewed by poll watchers.
Some ballots were handled completely out of view behind a
Many questions, few answers.
Again, Swenson single-handedly denied our access and
monitoring of the ballots in the entrance hall area. Yet, when
these uncounted ballots were moved from the entrance hall to
the counting prep area just outside the counting room—we were
again granted full access to them. In fact, we could stand
right next to the tables with uncounted ballots on them.
Why were we trusted enough to be there, but not where the
ballots were brought into the cafeteria and entrance hall?
Swenson went in and out of the counting prep area, but she
herself would not go into the cafeteria or entrance hall; nor
would she allow anyone other than her staff access to those
The two guarded areas contained coats, purses, and many
other personal articles that could have concealed ballots. Why
weren’t they examined or placed in an area away from the
ballots? Much of the cafeteria room was out of view of poll
watchers. Why weren’t we allowed to watch?
2001 Salt Lake County Republican Party Convention.
Sheriff Aaron Kennard was in charge of the ballot boxes for
voting at the Salt Lake County Republican Party convention.
This is interesting by itself when considering Sheriff Kennard
was on the vary ballot he was again in-charge of. These are
only a few of the problems at that convention:
began, poll watchers were directed by the convention Chair
to gather on the east side of the building. Meanwhile the
ballot boxes were being brought up from down stars on the
west side of the building—out of view of poll
watchers. (Note: Poll watchers are people chosen by
candidates to observe and make sure elections are proper and
Kennard closed the boxes without first allowing poll
watchers to verify that the ballot boxes were empty before
watchers present at the ballot boxes, the convention chair
instructed the delegation to go vote.
were opened on the convention floor while voting was taking
place against the wishes of many poll watchers.
opened two ballot boxes and then dumped the ballots out of
one ballot box into another. When asked why he was
doing such an odd and unprecedented action, Sheriff Kennard
flippantly stated that he needed the ballot box at another
location. Interesting... Why would Kennard need to empty one
ballot box into another when both boxes had so few ballots
in them? All the ballots had the same candidates on them in
all voting locations, so why would the Sheriff need to empty
one? To make things even more curious, Kennard slid the
supposed needed ballot box under a skirted table.
Kennard’s supervision four more unlocked ballot boxes
returned into the counting room to be counted.
2000 State Republican Party Election. Ten minutes
before the credentialing tables were to close, the delegation was
informed that the number of delegates credentialed was 2,996.
The official delegation count was not disclosed after
this—even though it is part of protocol to do so when closing
the credential tables, which stayed open until 11:45 am.
Many questioned how over 3,500 votes were cast in the
elections. This would mean that over 500 people or 1/7
of the delegation arrived after the officiating time was to
close. The fact that an extra ballot box appeared made many
start to be very suspicious. This race almost forced
high-ranking Senator Hatch into a primary, and decided the
races of Utah’s Governor, Congressman, Senators, and other
This convention had the loosest election controls I have
ever witnessed. Ballot boxes were mobile, teenage children
in-charge of the boxes were directed to walk around the
convention gathering ballots from delegates. Ballot boxes were
swung over shoulders in a manner that ballots may have fallen
out. Many people were seen gathering ballots out of trashcans
in order to vote more than once. Rob Bishop, now an U.S.
Congressman, was the State Party Chair and in-charge of
overseeing this convention.
1999 Salt Lake County Republican Party Election. Two
Republicans, Tom Draschil and Ruth Hernandez were falsely
arrested for handing out harmless information on their
Republican organization. They were later found innocent.
Others were harassed and prevented by police from handing
out literature that targeted elected officials affiliated with
the Utah Education Association. This information likely
influenced elections not only in the Republican convention, as
several of the candidates targeted by literature were sent to
primaries. How many more would have been defeated if Sheriff
Kennard, who was present and who knew what was happening, had
prevented this abuse? One Citizen approached Kennard to
convince him to take action to stop the police abuse. Kennard
laughed and refused to take action.
Final Note: How easy is it to alter a computer program?
Not long ago, I watched a news program (it was either 60
Minutes or 20/20) comparing electronic voting security in
America to a home without any doors on it. This motivated me
to write a small mock computer voting program to see how
difficult it might be to alter the results. I ran 3 candidates
with 100,000 fictitious, random votes, splitting them evenly
amongst the 3 candidates. I then changed the program to
program to steal 5% from one candidate and split it with the
others. It took only two lines of code on my computer screen
and less than 40 seconds to engineer.
Yes, that was a very simplistic program. However, hackers
much smarter than I have been breaking into highly complex
programs for years—sometimes
just for fun. To believe there is not an incentive when
enormous amounts of money and power are at stake would be
worse than naive.