17 October 2014

The county famous for its ironic phrase: "Vote early, vote often" may have to look for a new tag line this year.

Cook County Clerk David Orr, who spoke to Palatine Township residents, is confident the security and uses of the county's new electronic voting machines will preserve the integrity of the election process.

"Cook County has the longest and most complicated ballots in the nation," Orr said. "Probably because we have all sorts of different units of government and retention of judges."

Two people living next door to each other might have different state representatives, live in different park districts, or have different school districts, Orr said, so there are multiple ballot styles -- as many as eight or nine in one precinct.

Orr said electronic vote machines would cut down the complexity of knowing which voter gets which ballot style.

Cook County plans to use optical scanners with some touch screen vote machines also known as Direct Record Electronic (DRE) machines. The optical scan ballots are similar to the scanned tests used in schools where students fill out a circle next to the answer. Touch screen machines offer the option of going back to change your vote before it is finally counted and reviewing your vote on paper once it is counted.

"So if you're worried that there could be some manipulation to the ballot this gives you a record," Orr said. "So if I voted for (x) and it says (y) on here, I'm going to say: 'Wait a second, lets get a judge over here right away.' "

Orr said the machines can also use different languages and be adjusted for larger fonts and sharper contrasts for people with vision problems.

"All studies show the over-65 crowd like these," Orr said.

Schaumburg senior Shirley Odegaard said she liked the review feature.

"I am so happy that we can take a look at who we voted for before we cast the vote," she said. "With the punch cards it was hard to figure out who I voted for. It's a very handy feature."

Palatine Township resident Paul Cook asked Orr if there would be problems with overvoting -- voting for more than one candidate for the same office.

"If you overvote on the touch screen it will tell you that, so you can't overvote on the touch screen," Orr said. "On the optical scanner, it would be overwritten, but all of your other votes will count."

Paper record

Orr said once voters have reviewed their ballot, they cast it and the machine prints a paper record which is kept in a secure place available for a recount.

"There have been some controversies in some places where there was no paper trail available for recount," Orr said.

Palatine Village Clerk Marg Duer asked if residents could opt not to have a paper record.

"It will still have to print a record. You can choose to ignore it," Orr said. "But it's required by law. We'll have it, and people can have (a copy) or not if they want it."

Claire Tobin, chairwoman for the Chicago chapter of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project asked Orr if he was aware of the problems with electronic voting machines outlined in a report issued by the Government Accountability Office in September.

"There is a lot of information about discrepancies occurring in electronic voting," Tobin said. "The GAO report confirmed voting rights advocates' concerns about security improvements."

According to the GAO report: "These weaknesses could damage the integrity of ballots, votes, and voting system software by allowing unauthorized modifications."

Orr said he has been a strong proponent of the Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPT), which requires touch-screen machines to have a verifiable paper audit trail and be federally certified for use.

The machines themselves are not attached to the Internet. Under Illinois election code there must be a continuous trail of evidence linking individual votes to the casting of ballots, the vote county, and the summary record of vote totals.

Law changes

The election code also requires that voters remain anonymous and electronic logs of any and all access to the voting machines must be kept. Illinois is one of a small number of states that requires touch-screen machines to have a paper trail. In June, Orr supported changes to the election code which would require the manufacturers of touch screen voting machines to make their source code "public" and available for inspection. The source code, or computer language, determines how the computer counts and stores the votes.

Orr said publishing the source code would uncover any hidden programming flaws and enable the manufacturer to correct defects before Election Day. Proprietary source codes have been vulnerable to computer hackers, Orr said, and can result in serious security breaches in voting.

Having the computer programming made public allows people to inspect the software to find bugs which can be corrected, improves security, and allows the public to see that some sort of unfairness has not been built into the programming.

"We are going to do a partial manual count just like we do with paper ballots," Orr added. "Not because of the law, but because it is in my jurisdiction. If for some reason the numbers don't match, then we will find out why the numbers don't match."

For more information on how to vote with the new machines, visit the Cook County Clerk's Office Web site at: http://www.voterinfonet.com.

For more information on the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project visit: http://www.ballot-integrity.org.

The GAO report on electronic voting systems is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05956.pdf