May 22, 2023

Overselling digital ballot images

A response to John Brakey’s “Digital Ballot Images: Key to Trustworthy Elections & Bridging Our Great Divide”:

The cross-checking that is cited is between the digital image and the cast vote record (CVR). But the cast vote record is based on the digital image, so they may align, but what if the digital image was corrupted prior to the creation of the CVR? See J. Alex Halderman, “Unclear Ballot: Automated Ballot Image Manipulation,”

John Brakey holds that “even in the very unlikely event that a hacker managed to break through and alter ballot images — a far more difficult exploit than altering vote totals on a voting machine or central tabulator — this manipulation would be exposed immediately simply by spot-checking the ballot images against the originals.” Immediately? What would a statistics expert like Philip Stark recommend in the way of spot-checking? Is spot-checking mandated in the bill?

Voters are again being told to trust technology, that it is “hash-check protected,” which brings to mind Andrew Appel and Susan Greenhalgh’s reporting on “Voting Machine Hashcode Testing: Unsurprisingly insecure, and surprisingly insecure,”

I applaud John Brakey’s fight for transparency. My fear is that overselling what we can learn from ballot images will further diminish the willingness to work for the gold standard of public oversight and verification: hand counting or hand-counted audits of hand-marked paper ballots. Worst case: A hack or rig could go undetected.

John Brakey replied on Facebook: “This system is about redundancy. It is important that the original ballot is married to the ballot image and some form of a risk-limiting audit is done to verify that the ballot images have not been altered.” 

February 12, 2023

Professor Stark re GA audits

Marilyn Marks posted at Post.News. Professor Stark's testimony has relevance nationwide:

"Why GA election outcomes cannot be verified

"Now that GA's elections are over and it's pretty quiet, it's time to understand why top experts in the nation agree that GA's voting system must be overhauled to protect the vote for the future. Put aside the rancor and Trump cult disinformation campaigns and focus on the science. It's a little bit complicated, but Dr. Philip Stark lays it out in simple terms.

"Start with Dr. Philip Stark's report on Raffensperger's completely flawed audits. No race can be audited to test the outcome. That is not sustainable in turning purple Georgia!"

January 12, 2023

In opposition to ranked-choice voting

In opposition to NH HB 345, enabling ranked-choice voting (RCV) for state party primary and municipal elections, and HB 350, establishing procedures for RCV for federal and state offices:

What the well-intentioned proponents of ranked-choice voting overlook is that it conflicts with a much more urgent and critical need for manual auditing to counter the threats of hacking and rigging and the lack of confidence in our voting machines. The complexity of ranked-choice voting would only add to the resistance to hand-counted audits.

Little-understood downside to ranked-choice voting: The RCV component of state and federal races and state party primaries will always have to be tabulated by the Secretary of State or some other state authority on their RCV-programmed central scanner. In NH, that would hold for RCV municipal elections also until local jurisdictions purchase new, RCV-capable machines. Even then, how would the ranked-choice votes for, say, Nashua Aldermen-at-Large be tabulated? By the SoS? Or maybe the city clerk?

How would we audit, let alone recount, the SoS's results? Every legislator who has a vote on RCV should watch at least a portion of the video on RCV auditing [] by the RCV Resource Center to see what the challenges are. Daunting, to say the least.

RCV advocates contend that it reduces polarization. Traditional runoff elections to reach a majority of votes for the winning candidates are held in a number of states, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Does anyone see a reduction in divisiveness in those states?

RCV's Achilles’ heel is the requirement for *instant* runoffs, which necessitates central, state-level, computerized tabulation to reallocate losing candidates’ votes. Traditional runoffs, on the other hand, are tabulated just like any other election. Candidates with the lowest vote totals are simply eliminated after a round; their votes are not redirected to surviving candidates. RCV advocates see its strength in exactly this capability to rank candidates. I do understand the appeal, but it comes at the unacceptable cost of local oversight, transparency, auditability, and therefore security.

See also Brad Friedman: "Why Ranked Choice Voting Is a Terrible Idea" at "it's very difficult to count, virtually impossible for the public to oversee, requires central tabulation and computers to pull off, and candidates and voters in many places where it's been tried in the past have found that it's impossible to understand why some candidates won and others lost." Brad notes that Approval Voting is an audit-friendly alternative to reach winners that can attract a majority of votes.

Barbara Glassman
Nashua, NH

PS This article should be required reading:

PPS Brad Friedman wrote of his 2/20/23 Bradcast, beginning at 42 minutes:

“[W]e close with details on voting system failures in both New Jersey and California in November of 2022. In both cases, the systems ended up naming candidates who actually lost to be the winners and vice versa. In Monmouth County, NJ, the ES&S voting tabulators allowed duplicate votes to be uploaded to it twice. It wasn't discovered until last month. In Alameda County, CA, the tabulators were programmed incorrectly to do the impossible math of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) elections in the Bay area. It was discovered in late December last year by a pro-RCV organization who happened to run the math on their own computers and discovered the error.

“In both cases, the errors were discovered after losing candidates were certified as winners. How many places did that happen but wasn't ever discovered, because human beings rarely bother to count ballots to make sure the computers did so accurately. This is what comes of outsourcing public elections to private companies and running elections on computer systems that are virtually impossible to oversee by the American public.”