Questions for the 2008 Oregon Secretary of State Candidates
[Please send your answers to info@OregonVRC.org by March 28th.
1. Across the nation, concerned citizens are demanding assurances that
the foundation of American democracy – the VOTE – is being protected
and that the will of the people is being accurately reflected in election
outcomes. Oregon’s election system has strengths absent in many other
states. For example, we have universal Vote-By-Mail, which eliminates
the potential for the infamous election day lines seen in Ohio in 2004.
We vote on paper ballots as our ballots of record, which sets the stage
for meaningful recounts and audits. In addition, we have forensic
signature-matching to ensure voting integrity. Nevertheless, the actual
counting of the votes is performed by trade secret software.
Do you feel any urgency that Oregon’s election system is not as secure as it should
be? Do you believe that Oregon’s election results could be compromised (and
potentially changed) by faulty, or hackable, software provided by private, for-
2. The entry of corporate, trade-secret software into elections increased
the speed with which election results could be tallied. It also ended the
era when citizens and election officials could actually observe the
counting of the vote. The source code of the software that actually
counts our votes in Oregon may not be viewed by any official, including
the Secretary of State.
How would you, as Secretary of State, propose to oversee and verify the accuracy
of the machine vote counting given the secrecy that prevents citizens and officials
from actually observing the vote count?
3. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law
School and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at the
University of California, Berkeley School of Law convened a “blue
ribbon panel of statisticians, voting experts, computer scientists and
several of the nation’s leading election officials” to review and evaluate
existing and proposed post-election audit laws and procedures. Their
recent analysis of post-election audits across the nation, “Post-Election
Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections”
“Of the few states that currently require and conduct post-election audits, none has
adopted audit models that will maximize the likelihood of finding clever and
targeted software-based attacks, non-systemic programming errors, and software
bugs that could change the outcome of an election.”
The Oregon Legislature passed an election audit bill (HB3270) in the
last session that requires a hand-counted sample of ballots. According
to the Brennan Center report, the type of audit now required by Oregon
law will provide only a 61% confidence level that “a complete manual
recount would not change the outcome of the race” if the margin of
victory between two candidates is between 1% and 2% (and only a 58%
confidence level if the margin of victory is less than 1%).
Do you find it acceptable that Oregon election outcomes can have a 39% chance of
being incorrect and placing the wrong person in office? If not, would you support
election verification protocols that provide a 99% level of confidence that the votes
cast by Oregonians are accurately reflected in the outcome?
4. Open-source software for elections has been proposed as a needed
replacement for the current proprietary software provided by private,
for-profit vendors. A hand-counted ballot sample would always be
required for verification, but use of open source, transparent vote-
counting technology could be a giant step forward for Oregon. As it
happens, Oregon has a vibrant open-source community, with respected
institutions like the Open Source Development Labs in Beaverton and
the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
Could development of an open-source election system be a Win-Win situation for
Oregon, providing transparency to and producing greater confidence in Oregon’s
elections while also contributing to the burgeoning local open-source industry,
and lowering costs by removing for-profit corporations from our elections? As
SOS, would you pursue open-source options for counting our votes?
5. California’s SOS, Debra Bowen, recently ordered a “top to bottom”
review of the election systems used in all California counties. This
resulted in the decertification of systems provided by all vendors and
conditional re-certification of some for the 2008 elections. Most of
Oregon’s votes are counted on optical scan machines and tabulation
software manufactured by ES&S. ES&S optical scan voting systems
were recently de-certified in Colorado after extensive testing conducted
by the SOS’ office deemed them untrustworthy. Recent testing in Ohio
also revealed extensive security flaws with the ES&S systems.
What is Oregon’s current process for testing the election systems provided by
corporate vendors? Do you feel it is sufficient? Would you conduct a “top to
bottom” review of Oregon’s voting technology (including voter databases and
tabulating software) if you become SOS?