Ballot Security Democrat Mattox and Republican Rains Tangle Over Computerized Vote-Counting BY RONNIE DOGGER The issue of the security of computertabulated elections against fraud and manipulation was introduced in these pages by the author in the Observer for November 11, 1988, and in the New Yorker four days earlier. The author has recently signed a contract with Pantheon for a book on the subject. Austin APOLITICALLY EXPLOSIVE conflict has peeled open in the legislature over whether computerized vote-counting machines used in Texas have been adequately tested against fraud by the Republican Secretary of State, Jack Rains, in compliance with a model reform law, H.B. 1412, passed by the preceding legislature. Attorney General Jim Mattox demanded of Rains on May 9 that immediate steps be taken to subject the computerized systems in use in Texas to tests that his department’s statutorily provided expert on them, Dr. Michael Shamos of Pennsylvania, would regard as adequate. Shamos notified Mattox’s office that unless pending legislative changes are enacted to require the abandonment of computerized systems under certain circumstances, he will resign. As the legislature moved toward sine die, Bob Slagle and Ed Martin, the state’s top Democratic officials, were negotiating with Rains and his staffers to see if a compromise could be worked out to satisfy both sides. Rains is regarded . as a candidate for governor he may have announced by the time this story appears and is thought to want the enactment of some kind of electoral reform on his record as secretary of state. If his office blocks the enactment of the omnibus election-law reform bill providing for the decertification of disapproved or Shamos-vetoed voting systems, Rains may see his hope go glimmering for the enactment of another pending bill to tighten disclosure requirements on campaign despite an assertion by the deputy secretary of state to the Observer that Rains’s office takes no position on legislation, Rains’s people have been staunchly opposing the changes which Shamos, and by inference the attorney general, support. The underlying provocation has been the obvious failure of the secretary of state’s office to conduct thorough examinations of the computerized voting systems in use in Texas as required in H.B. 1412. Some cursory inspections were conducted in 1987, but Shamos, Mattox’s officially designated advisor on the subject, participated in only one of them, and the assistant secretary of state at that time, Randy Erben, freely acknowledged that all vote-counting systems in use had been “provisionally approved” because of the lack of enough staff to carry out the requirements of the reform law. There have been no physical examinations of Texas vote-counting systems since the cursory 1987 inspections, according to an authority on this subject. Has Rains failed to make the inspections that are required by law? Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, D-Alice, former chairperson of the House elections committee, freely stated to the Observer last November that she believes a national election can be stolen by computer fraud in vote-counting. She and her allies in concern about the security of computerized vote-counting \(especially in the punchcard office, having “provisionally recertified” all the systems in 1987, might permanently recertify them without the approval of Shamos, Mattox’s representative. Under H.B. 1412, in effect the secretary of state’s three examiners make the decision, but the attorney general’s representative on the question has a statutory advisory role. In the present situation a Democratic attorney general and a Republican secretary of state there is the possibility that one side could accuse the other, along about election time, of failing to secure computercounted voting against fraud by fixed computer programming or other manipulation. Seeking to prevent pro forma recertification, Glossbrenner got Rains’s attention the way one attracts the interest of a mule. She proposed, and the Senate, in the omnibus election bill, has passed two provisions that whack the secretary of state across the head. Under the first of these, the secretary of state “may not approve” voting and votecounting systems or equipment for use in Texas elections if two of that office’s three examiners or the attorney general or the attorney general’s designee “state in their reports that the system or equipment does not satisfy the applicable requirements for approval.” Under the second Senate-passed provision, it would be required that any electronic voting system reexamined during the preceding two years “shall be reexamined” if two of the examiners or the attorney general or his designee held that the system did not merit approval. This, which is called informally in the legislature. “the Shamos veto,” would in effect prohibit the use of voting systems unless the attorney general’s person said they were safe against fraud and manipulation. ACCORDING TO INFORMATION obtained through the Observer’s invocation of the Texas Open Records Act, Shamos has made it clear he will not approve the computerized systems in use in Texas on the basis of materials mailed to him in Pennsylvania. On April 3 last, Mary Keller, first assistant attorney general, had written Shamos that Rains had indicated that copies of the source codes \(which control voteother relevant materials about the voting systems had been sent to Shamos. “Do you foresee a need to physically examine any of the systems under consideration?” . Keller had asked Shamos. “While I have indeed received a carton of materials from the secretary of state’s office,” Shamos replied to Keller on May 1, “there is no amount of printed literature that, taken by itself, would form an adequate basis for certifying a voting system.” To accept at face value the assertions of the manufacturers of the voting systems “would be to beg the question completely,” Shamos said “one might as well just rely on a sworn statement by the vendor that the system conforms to law and leave it at that.” Only by physical examination, he continued, could examiners learn how the unit will perform in practice, how sensitive it might be to mis-punched ballot cards, and so on. “Likewise,” Shamos said more saliently, THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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