The Alameda County Registrar of Voters office acted quickly this week to try to convince the public that voting in next month’s elections will be secure, inviting reporters on Monday to tour the county’s downtown vote-counting facilities and releasing an independent contractor’s “vulnerability assessment” of the county’s new voting system.
It was the first day that the registrar’s office was accepting absentee ballots for the November election.
Last Wednesday, the non-profit Voter Action organization filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Oakland against the county and the registrar of voters office, claiming that independent security testing had not been done on the new Sequoia voting machines as required by county supervisors. The lawsuit named three Alameda County voters—Rita Lewis, Sukwah Bernstein, and Jon Barrilleaux—as plaintiffs.
On Monday, Acting Registrar Dave MacDonald released a 22-page report by Pacific Design Engineering of Pleasanton, concluding that “from a technological perspective, the Sequoia Electronic Voting system acquired by Alameda County, along with the processes and countermeasures planned by Alameda County for Election Day, can be considered secure. No practical, realizable vulnerabilities were uncovered that could not be eliminated through appropriate countermeasures.”
MacDonald said that the Pacific Design Engineering report had not been available at the time the Voter Action lawsuit was filed. He said he planned to release the report to Alameda County Supervisors on Tuesday morning at the supervisors’ regular meeting.
But release of the PDE report did not satisfy the Voter Action organization.
Berkeley attorney Lowell Finley, co-director of Voter Action, said by telephone Monday following the report release that “no testing has been done on the Alameda County Sequoia machines. What PDE did was an assessment, which was done simply by reviewing documents and interviewing people at Sequoia. That is very different from what was called for by the county superivisors when they authorized the Sequoia contract on June 8. They specifically called for testing, which means independent attempts to break into the machines and alter the votes. That’s what we are asking for in the lawsuit—for the registrar’s office to meet the requirements made by the supervisors.”
In its report, Pacific Design Engineering mentioned no independent testing, saying only that its assessment began with “the development of a catalog of potential attacks against electronic voting systems. … After the attack catalog was assembled, PDE performed an in-depth analysis of the Alameda County voting system in three major areas: Electronic Voting System Architecture, Vote Count Room Security, and Electronic Voting System Processes.”
MacDonald did not comment on the Voter Action lawsuit today. He only said that while he had scanned it, he had not read it thoroughly.
However, he downplayed the tampering danger to electronic voting that has been the substance of much community concern in recent years.
“I’m unaware of any election where electronic voting has been tampered with,” MacDonald said. “There have been a lot of allegations. But if there’s some actual proof, I’d like to see it.”
While voting in Alameda County’s November election will be similar in some ways to the June vote, it will also differ significantly. As in June, most voting will be done on paper ballots, with touchscreen electronic voting machines available at each of the county’s 825 precincts for those who either need or wish to use them.
Unlike last June, however, when the paper ballots were all scanned at a central location in Oakland, voters in the November election will put their paper ballots in the new Sequoia vote-scanning machines in each precinct.
The look of the ballot is different as well, with voters now being asked to make a mark in an open space between two arrows to mark their choices. Last June, voters were asked to make a mark in a box.
MacDonald said that while the scanning of ballots at each precinct will make the count of November’s election faster than last June’s, “speed is not my number one priority. Security and accuracy come first. Speed of counting is third in line.”