This is already available in most systems. Laws are already on the books to authorize you to do this. It costs almost nothing and enables almost everyone to authenticate computerized voting system results. All that remains is cooperation (or court-ordered coercion) of public officials to force them to honor your rights.
It is a one-two punch which makes it very difficult to tamper with results without detection – no matter who administers the system, what vendors they use, or who gets their hands on the computer code. If you do this, it won’t matter if it’s the Russians or some local good ol’ boy sticking hands into the system, because you can catch them.
There is a word we use in popular culture today: Crowd sourcing.
What this does is crowd-source the authentication of the vote, in effect letting any and all persons verify ALL the votes, and if they want, anyone can do their own full recount of any or all races. And it is virtually free.
TWO PARTS PLUS A NECESSARY LINK-UP
- Ballot images – Modern voting systems, and even the touch-screens, even if they are paperless, capture an individual image of each vote. Paper ballots are by far the best, because they are needed for part 2. Think of it like this: As ballots go through the scanner, it takes a photo of each and stores it as an electronic file. (Electronic voting systems self-populate a template, which isn’t as good but still somewhat helpful). These are called “ballot images” and are simply electronic files, like PDF or TIFF or JPG or PNG files. Under freedom of information law, it is your right to get copies of these electronic files. They are (or should be!) anonymous and do not identify voter.
- Right to examine actual ballots – After downloading the whole set of ballot images — in essence, your own copy of every ballot — you still need the ability to verify that these electronic images have not been changed. Here’s how that works: A linkage between ballot and ballot image should exist, in the form of a serial number. Not a fancy QR code which can contain hidden identifiers leading back to the voter ID of who cast the ballot. Just a simple unique number, like 10548626. This number appears on both ballot and ballot image. If you want to check whether ballot images are real, you simply examine the actual ballots using your Freedom of Information rights, comparing to make sure the image matches the original.
Ballot images are available right now in most voting machines. Paper ballots exist in most locations now. Freedom of Information rights exist in every state and apply to “any person” or, in a few states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, to any resident of the state.
BALLOT IMAGES DID NOT SUCCUMB TO FRACTION MAGIC
In our testing, the ballot images remained intact when we changed results with Fraction Magic. (Fraction Magic: See series of articles at this Web site and short video: http://blackboxvoting.org/fraction-magic-video/ ) Because ballot images are somewhat resistant to central tabulator manipulations, they are quite important. If you find local officials deleting the ballot images, disabling the feature, refusing to let anyone see them, or any other obstructive behavior, document it. This is essentially blocking a built-in audit trail that, according to vendor notes, was originally intended to help the public validate the count.
HOW TO ASK FOR COPY OF BALLOT IMAGES
Public records requests, or Freedom of Information requests, are submitted to the custodian of the records, which in this case is usually the county election office. Along with right to obtain copies of government records is right to inspect government records. Typically the law requires that right to inspect be honored right then and there. In other words, it is theoretically possible for you to ask to inspect the ballot images, or ballots, at the time you ask to do so. Asking for copies sometimes produces a time delay that in elections is often used to “run out the clock” — delaying your ability to get the documents until after recount and contest periods have expired.
WHERE ARE THE BALLOT IMAGES?
It depends on the make and model.
Here is an excellent article regarding ballot images and other vendors.
Below, I am providing ballot image information for the old Diebold/Premier system, used with GEMS. It is used in 25 states and 616 jurisdictions, including statewide in Georgia, Utah, Mississippi and Alaska.
The old Diebold/Premier “Accu-vote” systems transmit their data to a central tabulator into a program called GEMS. The ballot images go into GEMS as well, where they reside in a central repository. Let me navigate you to them and show you where they live and what they look like, using a real GEMS system with a real vote database:
Ballot image from paperless touchscreen:
Ballot image from paper ballot optical scan:
And, in the old Diebold/Premier GEMS system, now run by ES&S and Dominion, here is how to navigate the menu to get to the ballot images:
Opening menu screen:
Choose “view ballots”
You can click and “print” to create an electronic file for every ballot.
The touchscreens automatically generate ballot images, so if they are missing it means that:
- Someone did a manual override to type in new data. That can be done in another menu and it makes the ballot images evaporate.
- If it is not a touchscreen, but an old optical scan machine, the old ACCUVOTE opscan, it didn’t produce ballot images. If it is an absentee ballot scanner or one of the newer high speed scanners, it produces ballot images unless they turn off the feature on purpose or destroy the ballot images.
Again, in the Premier/Diebold GEMS system you don’t have to go to the voting machines. The ballot images exist in the GEMS central tabulator.
Other vendors, like ES&S, Dominion, and Hart Intercivic have different menu navigation but also have ballot images.
AND NOW A WORD ABOUT “CAST VOTE RECORDS”
A “Cast Vote Record” or CVR is a slightly different animal than a ballot image. You may want to get them both but if you get only one, get the ballot image not the CVR. The Cast Vote Record is a data table and can be manipulated more easily than the graphic image.
Most “Cast Vote Records” look like a table full of numbers. However, the Diebold/Premier CVR for the touchscreens is made to look like pretend ballots. Here is the CVR for the same ballot image shown above:
In the Shelby County TN 2010 GEMS database, the Cast Vote Records do not match the ballot images. One more note on the Diebold/Premier “GEMS” ballot images: Those have to be printed one by one, but you can print the CVR records in batches.
PUBLIC POLICY IMPLICATIONS
Before the next major election, we need public policy directives to immediately place all ballot images on the Web for any member of the public to see at any time, along with a requirement to place a linking serial number on the image to enable comparison with the original paper ballot.
Election verification can never again be farmed out to small sets of political insiders, government bureaucrats, academics or experts. It is time to assert the public right to do our own verification.