Pennsylvania's Primary: Paperless and Unverifiable

The Presidential primary on April 22 will be essentially unrecountable, unverifiable, and unauditable -- an irony, because state law requires manual audits of a statistical sample of ballots cast in elections.

Over 85% of Pennsylvania's voters live in counties in which paperless electronic voting is the only method of voting at the polling place. Absentee voting requires an excuse in Pennsylvania, and there is no early voting period, so the polling-place equipment will tabulate the vast majority of the votes in the primary. Pennsylvania's Secretary of State has judged that reel-to-reel paper trail printers compromise voter privacy, and none of Pennsylvania's direct-recording electronic (DRE) systems offer voter-verifiable paper records.

Here is a summary of the voting systems used in Pennsylvania:

  • According to the Secretary of State's most current voter registration statistics, Pennsylvania has 8,326,564 registered voters. 7,064,129 voters are registered in the 51 counties in which paperless electronic voting is the only method of voting at the polling places.
  • Of the 51 counties which use paperless machines, 25 use the paperless ES&S iVotronic touch screen machine as the principal voting system. These counties have over 2.6 million registered voters, comprising 32% of the registered voters in the state. After the state of Ohio's EVEREST voting system review was published, Edward Felten, head of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, wrote that the iVotronic is "too risky to use in elections."
  • 16 counties, with over 900,000 registered voters, use the Diebold/Premier TSx touch screen as the voting system. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen disallowed the TSx for use as a primary voting system for multiple and grave security vulnerabilities, as well as threats to voter privacy. See Secretary Bowen's withdrawal of approval here, and the full reports of the review teams.
  • 6 counties, with over 2.3 million voters, use the push-button Shouptronic voting machine.
  • 750,000 voters will use the Sequoia Advantage, which apparently miscounted party turnout New Jersey's February 5 primary. New Jersey county election officials called for an independent investigation of the machine discrepancy. 104,000 voters in York County use the Sequoia AVC Edge, also disallowed for use as a primary system in California.
  • 82,000 voters in Blair County will use the Hart Intercivic eSlate as the primary system. The eSlate was also found vulnerable in the EVEREST (p. 228-230) and the California top-to-bottom review.
  • Just under 1.2 million voters live in counties in which optically scanned paper ballots are the primary voting system. 740,000 voters live in four counties which use blended systems, with DREs used for accessible voting systems. 420,000 voters live in the 12 counties that use optical scan systems with a ballot-marking device for accessibility.

As a complete reading of the California and Ohio reviews will reveal, all of the optical systems used in Pennsylvania have serious security vulnerabilities. But optical scan systems offer a record of the votes that is independent of the software in the machine. And Pennsylvania law, 25 P.S. 3031.17, offers the best defense against these vulnerabilities: a random manual audit of ballots cast in an election. Only the counties with paper ballots can implement this law in a meaningful way.

Although November is looming nearer, Lackawanna County decided in March 2008 to switch to an optical scan/ballot-marker solution in time for the April 22 primary.

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