Vote Counts Don't Add Up In Alaska

Fairbanks Open Radio

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Vote counting and securing democracy in Alaska by David Koester


Fairbanks Open Radio

Vote totals don't add up in 2004 election

July 22, 2006 — Many voters were concerned when it was announced that Lt. Governor Loren Leman had appointed a Republican Party officer (former chair of the Young Republicans of Alaska), Whitney Brewster, to head the state's Division of Elections (on an official state web page she is still listed as "Chairman of the Young Republicans"). [EJF note: The hiring and appointment of technically unqualified individuals to run elections is standard practice by states. A pretty face seems to help get such appointments as well.] This political appointment of a partisan with, according to newspaper reports, no professional elections experience, did not bode well for maintaining the level of professionalism that has characterized Alaska's election system. Unfortunately, the negative consequences of this appointment already seem to have appeared, even before a major election cycle. The Division has been unable to provide coherent election results for the 2004 elections and Mrs. Brewster has been unwilling to present an explanation of why.

To be fair, it is important to point out that Whitney Brewster did not preside over the 2004 elections or the posting of the faulty results. Yet, this partisan appointment seems now to have polarized what should be an entirely a bipartisan public issue. The Democratic Party of Alaska is now suing to obtain the data from the voting machines to verify the results. The problem arises from the public results of the 2004 elections which, according to the lawsuit and others who have checked the tallying, do not make sense. If you add the totals of votes district by district in statewide elections, you come up with totals that do not match the final, official results of the election. The Division of Elections has not explained this discrepancy except to say that it is a reporting error and that the memory cards of the scanning machines were incorrectly programmed. The memory cards are the programming devices that go in each [Diebold AccuVote] optical scan voting machine to tell it how to tally the marks on the ballot.

What are voters to think? If the memory cards were improperly programmed, how could we trust any of the results? If the memory cards are giving two different totals, how is it determined which one is valid? I was involved with the effort to call for the 2004 recount of the US Senate race. In the recount it was convincingly shown that properly programmed and secured optical scanning machines were giving accurate counts of ballots fed into them. If there was an error in the totals, it seems much more likely that the system software that totals the vote tallies from all the machines is at fault or there was a security breach. For Alaska the system software is a product called GEMS (General Election Management System) made by a subsidiary of Diebold, one of the largest manufacturers of voting equipment in the country. GES, the subsidiary, was infamous in voting security circles for having employed convicted high tech criminals in management ( One of them, Jeffrey Dean, who was reportedly convicted of electronic embezzlement, is said to have been retained as a consultant for programming the optical scanning software used in Diebold machines (version 1.96). [Scoop Independent News; I provide the links so you can see how reliable you think these stories are.] Diebold is a major voting machine supplier and its machines, along with ES&S's tallying equipment, count 80% of the votes in the U.S. "GEMS" appears in the title of the voting results report that is posted on the Division of Elections web site. This is the system that is generating the faulty report.

Rather than noticing and fixing the problem itself, the Division of Elections only publicly recognized the problem when the Democratic Party requested an explanation for why the totals did not match up. The Division of Elections had only the answer that it was a reporting error and that the announced final election totals were correct. The Democratic Party then requested to see the data direct from the tabulation software. This would allow one at least to see which of the results seem to be accurate. The vote totaling software is probably the point of greatest vulnerability during an election, since it has to be widely connected to gather the information from each of the voting machines at each of the precincts, total the tallies up and gives the summary results. There is no high level mathematics in such a program, all it needs to do for election purposes is to add the vote totals from the machines, it does not even need to tally the votes. Addition is the only critical mathematical function that should be working. (The software also does perform the unnecessary function of calculating the percentage of voters, given the number of registered voters. I say unnecessary because that could easily be done by non-secured software after the vote totals are reported.)

Initially the state refused the Democratic Party's request for the information from the GEMS system saying that it was proprietary Diebold information. Apparently, it was not Diebold that was worried about releasing the data. According to the letter posted on the Division of Elections web site from security officer Darrell Davis, a Mr. Owen from Diebold gave permission to release the database. It makes sense that they would give such permission because the data cannot constitute protected information. If a corporation were to claim that voting records could not be viewed because they had interwoven their proprietary software with the data, then that company vote tabulating product would have to be replaced.

The refusal to provide the information comes not from Diebold but from a recommendation by Darrel Davis himself. In his letter to Mrs. Brewster, Mr. Davis opined that the Division of Elections should not release the data.

This brings up the essence of the issue at hand: voting results have to be a matter of public record in a democracy. Democracy works because everyone feels that he or she has an equal say in the election of leaders of the collective. Voters need to know not only that their votes are being counted fairly, but that everyone else's are as well. This is essential to the democratic process. It is for this reason that voting results are not just an ordinary public record, like minutes of a meeting or account books. They are the ultimate public record in a democracy. They need to be fully transparent, verifiable and yet, and this is the only hedge, preserve the anonymity of the ballots cast.

It is from this perspective of public need to have voting results that there are several points in Darrell Davis's letter to Whitney Brewster that do not make sense.

"It is the opinion of the State Security Officer that all security related information for our systems, services, topology, and applications, and any data containing security related information, such as userids's, passwords, and system communication numbers is protected from public information requests."

Consider first that "it is the opinion of the State Security Officer" not a regulation or statute that data should be "protected" from public information requests. It is an odd perspective indeed that public information requests about voting data pose a threat from which the state must be protected. It is true that the state has an obligation to prevent malevolent disruption of state services and secure elections. But it is hard to imagine how public disclosure of 2004 election data could pose such a threat.

One of the dangers that we must be aware of in the electronic age is the Sovietization of government practices on the new grounds of electronic security. Yes, it is true that revealing all passwords to the voting system and then not changing them before the elections could pose a risk. But the Democratic Party's request did not ask for the passwords. And there is no reason that the passwords could not be changed before the next election. In fact, there is every reason that the passwords should be changed regularly. Why does the state not have a practice of changing user passwords that would prevent hackers from obtaining the passwords? At the same time, one might ask why the state even owns software in which the passwords for individuals reside unencrypted in the same database as the userids? Not even my home computer is that unsecure. If that is really the situation, then the software is inadequate and should be replaced.

Revealing of userid's poses not a security risk but a resolvable administrative problem. Electronic systems may have certain vulnerabilities, but they can also be avoided by systematic maintenance that is facilitated by the fact of being electronic. Userids, like passwords can be changed and though an inconvenience, it is not one that stands against the public's right to know election results (or at least in a democracy). A cost in administrative time would be incurred in changing userids and passwords. This has to be considered part of the cost of the software purchased. Incurring an additional administrative cost may be undesirable, but it does not constitute a threat to state security.

The most troubling aspect of Mr. Davis's conclusion that the voting records cannot be released, however, is that he cites a statute in support of his position that in fact demands just the opposite of what he says.

"Every person has a right to inspect a public record in the state, including public records in recorders' offices, except

(10) records or information pertaining to a plan, program, or procedures for establishing, maintaining, or restoring security in the state or to a detailed description or evaluation of systems, facilities or infrastructure in the state, but only to the extent that the production of the records or information

(A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with the implementation or enforcement of the security plan, program, or procedures;

(B) would disclose confidential guidelines for investigations or enforcement and the disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law; or

(C) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of an individual or to present a real and substantial risk to the public health and welfare;"

Very loosely speaking one might interpret the data requested as "information pertaining to procedures for maintaining security" but surely not "security in the state" in the sense of a threat posed to the state. How could 2004 voting records pose a threat to "security in the state" today? These are public records that are required by law to be available. The threat to security would be if someone attempted to prevent the public from access to these records. Such prevention of an essential democratic government function, accurate and transparent publication of voting results, including how the vote totals were reached, is a violation of not only the law but of the security of our democratic process.

If the request had been for the tabulation software one might argue that it constituted a "detailed description of infrastructure in the state, " or at least a very small component of state infrastructure. But even accepting that the information requested fits either of these two qualifications of "procedure" or "infrastructure" (which it does not), none of the explicit threats that, by statute, would need to be present in order for such qualified information to be withheld pertains.

There is no reason to expect that divulgence of past information would interfere with implementation or enforcement of security procedures, though it might require changing of passwords or even userids. But that would be an enhancement of security procedures. Clearly (B) investigations or enforcement, and (C) risk to public health and welfare do not apply.

When all is said and done these quoted statutes show clearly that the State Security Office in the Division of Enterprise Technology Services in the Department of Administration has No Authority to restrict access to these public records. The lesson of Soviet politics is that no government entity should be allowed illegally to take control over other divisions of government claiming the interests of state security. The Division of Elections should have the competence to manage the security of the voting system and this is why it is essential that an elections professional be at the head of the Division of Elections. We cannot accept the Stalinization of our government.

The lesson for good government is that unqualified political appointees hinder the functioning of government. A Division of Elections head who understood election systems would:

1. Be concerned that election results be fully and accurately reported (the faulty results published on the Division's web site are a huge embarrassment to the state),

2. Understand voting system operations and voting procedures sufficiently to know how to explain errors when they occur (even if the errors occurred before she was Division head) — the current errors remain unexplained,

3. Be able to respond to requests for voting results in a timely manner, without the need to consult other divisions of government.

I have no doubt that Darrell Davis's intentions were good in the sense of wanting to save some administrative hassle. I hope he as well as others can see that to take his advice would lead us down a road on which we really do not want to tread.

The bottom line is that if the voting data cannot be released because of the computer system's inadequate security structure, then the system needs to be replaced. The data should be released and if necessary a new system acquired. The GEMS system could be done away with and votes could be reported publicly to the media by each polling station and then checked by independent hand and machine counts after delivery to a central site. We can accept a delay in knowing the results. We cannot accept a situation in which our democratic security is breached by inappropriate claims of state security.


Democrats defend public's right to see election data by Kay Brown


Alaska Democratic Party

State's Security Argument Is Without Merit

July 27, 2006, Anchorage — The State of Alaska's argument that release of election records would jeopardize security and adversely impact upcoming elections is without merit, the Alaska Democratic Party said in court papers filed this week.

Whether the database containing the results of Alaska's 2004 elections should be released to the public under Alaska's public records law is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Alaska Democratic Party in State Superior Court after the Division of Elections refused to release the database.

Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides will hold a scheduling conference at 4 PM, Wednesday, August 2, at which time she is expected to set a date for a hearing in the case.

The Alaska Democratic Party has been trying since last year to get the public records about the 2004 general election results in order to find out why there are numerous errors and discrepancies in the state's reported results. The Division of Elections' latest excuses for refusing to release the election information are that security risks would jeopardize the Division of Elections' ability to carry out the upcoming Primary and General Elections, and that the Party's request came too late.

In papers filed last week in the court suit, the State said release of the electronic database that contains the 2004 votes "will jeopardize the security of the division of elections' computer system, and the division's administration of the upcoming Primary and General Elections." The information the Democrats seek "is not a public record," the State said, because it is covered under a security exemption to the public records act.

In papers filed in reply, the Democratic Party said that the voter records it seeks are public records that have nothing to do with a security exception in the public records law passed after 9/11. The Democratic Party said there is no security issue with releasing the database because its structure is already available on the Internet, and it is not requesting the passwords or secret phone numbers.

"Nothing we have asked for compromises security," said Alaska Democratic Party Chair Jake Metcalfe.

"We are asking the court to release these public records so that the people of Alaska can be assured that their votes were counted correctly. The Division of Elections says that all the errors have been explained, and we should just trust them, but the fact remains that the numbers posted on division's web site do not add up. We still don't know how many votes each candidate got in each House district, and there is no way to reconcile the Division's official summary results with their district-by-district tallies."

The database should be released because citizens have a right to see the voting results, Metcalfe said. "Public access to the electronic voting records is fundamental to democracy and to ensure public confidence in the election results," he said.

According to the Division of Elections' vote reports that were produced by the state's Diebold computer system and are posted on the Division's official web site, a far larger number of votes were cast than the official totals reported in the statewide summary. In the case of President George Bush's votes, the district-by-district totals add up to 292,267, but his official total was only 190,889, a difference of 101,378 votes. In the U.S. Senate race, Lisa Murkowski received 226,992 votes in the district-by-district totals, but her official total was only 149,446, a difference of 77,546 votes.

In 20 of the 40 State House Districts, more ballots were cast than there are registered voters in the district, according to information on the state's web site. In 16 election districts, the voter turnout percentage shown is over 200%.

The Alaska Democratic Party filed a formal public records request on December 19, 2005, seeking the "central tabulator data file" taken from the Diebold-supplied computer used to run the "GEMS" (Global Election Management Software) application. This is the electronic file containing all final vote tallies for the 2004 General Election.

Under the public records regulations, the Division was supposed to release the data file on January 4, 2006. On January 4 th the Division extended the deadline until January 19 th .

In a January 19, 2006, letter, the Division asserted that the file was proprietary information belonging to its contractor, Diebold Elections Systems.

In a February 3, 2006, letter, the Division advised the Democrats that Diebold had agreed to waive its proprietary rights to the GEMS database files, and said that the records would be provided if it determined that the integrity of the election system could be protected. In the February 3 rd letter the Division asked for an additional 10-day extension until February 13 th , and the Democrats agreed. On February 13 th the Division again extended the deadline to February 27 th . In a letter dated February 22, 2006, the Division denied the Democrats' public records request, citing "security risks." On April 18, the Democratic Party filed its lawsuit in Superior Court seeking release of the records. [EJF note: At the risk of stating the obvious, the Alaska Division of Elections is corrupt and attempting to hide their incompetence behind security claims.]



| EJF Home | Where To Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter |


| Vote Fraud and Election Issues Book | Table of Contents | Site Map | Index |


| Chapter 10 — Voting Problems In The 2004 Elections |

| Next — Powerful Government Accountability Office Report Confirms Key 2004 Election Problem Findings |

| Back — Voter Fraud Probed In Colorado by Susan Greene and Karen Crummy |


Added July 25, 2006

Last modified 6/14/09