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Democracy in the Computer Age Continued from Cover The month after Ronald Reagan was first elected President, Texas Governor Bill Clements’s Secretary of State, George Strake, confirmed in the press that he was considering decertifying the computerized ballot and vote-counting systems in Texas. “We decided to reexamine the punchcard and the optical scanner systems for possible decertification,” Strake’s assistant, Preston Goodwin, had told Tarrant County commissioners considering the new systems. Strake’s director of elections, Douglas Caddy, was quoted as warning: “The possibility for fraud is . . . much greater with punchcards than with any other system of voting.” Eight years later, computerized punchcard vote-counting systems are still in place in counties where about 50 percent of the people of the state live, including the cities of Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Austin, Lubbock, Beaumont, Abilene, Wichita Falls, Odessa, and Tyler \(see table, page However, there has been a slow trend away from the older CES systems. For example, this year both El Paso and Travis counties are trying out, under leasing agreements, a new “personal computer network” system mark-sense vote-counting system that is marketed by Cronus Industries, Inc., of Dallas through its sole Cronus/BRC is now the nation’s leading company in the manufacture, sale, programming, and maintenance of computerized vote-counting equipment. Helen Jamison, the election administrator in El Paso County, said the new Cronus system has been leased there for $85,000 and was first used in November 1987. Dana DeBeauvoir, the clerk of Travis County, explained that her election department has leased a similar system to test it out this year in the course of considering the replacement of the slowing-down CES system. In the older CES punchcard systems, voters use a stylus to punch out holes beside the names of the candidates and the statements of the propositions listed on a vote-recorder booklet device called the Votomatic. The stylus also punches out small numbered rectangles in a computerpunchcard ballot that is positioned underneath the booklet. Each candidate and the yes and no positions on each proposition are assigned one of the numbers on the card, matched to the holes beside their writtenout positions in the vote recorder. In the mark-sense systems, which BRC is now pushing rather than the Votomatic, the voter marks his or her choices on a ballot that is then counted by computers using light or electrical conductivity. Medium-sized cities ACKNOWLEDGMENTS At its outset, my inquiry into the security and accuracy of computer-tabulated elections, of which this Texas focused story \(with funded by grants from the J. Rod MacArthur Foundation of Chicago, the Fund for Constitutional Government of Washington, D.C. , the Fund for Investigative Journalism, also of Washington, D.C. , and the Urban Policy Institute of Los Angeles. Subsequently the work was commissioned by The New Yorker. For my generic report on the security and accuracy of computer-tabulated elections, the reader may wish to obtain the November 7 issue of The New Yorker, which was scheduled to reach newsstands October 31. I owe many more acknowledgments than I can proffer in the present situation, but I particularly wish to thank the three foundations; Mae Churchill of Los Angeles, who interested me in this subject and facilitated my approaches to foundations; reporter David Burnham, who, in an unusual act of professional generosity, gave me his foot-thick files on computerized votecounting; the editors of The New Yorker for various matters, and in the instant case for their agreement concerning the publication of the Observer report which the reader has in hand; and the editors of the Observer, who adapted resiliently to difficult circumstances connected with this project. R.D. that are located in the computerized marksense counties in Texas include Waco, Laredo. Longview, and Galveston \(see Strake, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party until recently, explained in a telephone interview on October 20 that the computerized systems about which he was dubious in 1980 are still in widespread use because “you’re talkin’ about lots and lots of money” that has been invested in them by the county governments that use them. Now engaged in a Houston trading company that does business in countries of the Pacific rim, Strake explained why he had become leery of the computerized systems. “You can fix those machines to count wrong, and that was a concern with me,” he said. “I think the system is out there for people to abuse it. We’re just gonna try to keep on top of it.” Asked if he knew of any elections that have been stolen by computers, Strake replied: “I don’t have any firm evidence, but it wouldn’t surprise me. . . . Somebody could just program it to count just 90 percent of the votes. That’s why we’ve got to have things like unannounced spot checks.” Computer programmers employed by the election companies write the central programs that direct the vote-counting, and by long-standing practice the companies have kept these “source codes,” as they are called, secret from everyone outside their corporate enclaves as proprietary trade secrets. According to one well-informed company source, the private election companies also do about half of the local-code programming which particularizes the source code’s instructions for the different contests and ballot positions of each local election. The local election officials in Texas may or may not do their own local programming, but none of them possesses, examines, or has any access to the source codes. For example, El Paso’s Helen Jamison said that she and one of her secretaries do the local coding that particularizes the computer vote-counting program to the specific candidates and their ballot positions in El Paso County elections, but the election company that provided her county’s equipment has always programmed the source code, which officials in El Paso have never seen. For Travis County vote-counting, said DeBeauvoir, BRC programs not only the company’s proprietary source code, but also the local “initializing” code that applies the source code to the unique variables of the local election. Public escrowing of the source codes may soon be recommended by a forthcoming federal report recommending new voluntary national standards for the security of 6 NOVEMBER 11, 1988