News

Voting security, local options needed in election reform plan

Kiffmeyer'sspending plan lacks detail, accountability

For immediate release
June 18, 2003
Contact: Jim Cousins, (612) 209-1897, jCousins@TripSplit.com

Minneapolis, MN -- If we're going to spend morethan $30 million, then we'd better get our money's worth. That's thereaction of FairVote Minnesota to Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer'sproposal for how to use funds coming to the state for election improvements.

"There's too little detail and even less accountabilityin this plan," says FairVote Minnesota President Tony Solgard. "Muchof the proposed spending is for new electronic voting machines, but questionsabout the security of this equipment need to be addressed. The publicmust respond if its concerns are to be heeded."

The funds are from the Help America Vote Act("HAVA"), a law passed last year by the federal government in responseto the vote-counting troubles of the 2000 Presidential election. Severalbillion dollars will flow to the states over the next few years to replaceoutmoded punch-card and lever voting machines, empower disabled personsto cast their votes without assistance, make sure no one is turned awayfrom the polls due to a failure of the voter registration system, andallow each voter to cast an effective vote and correct the ballot incase of an error.

Each state has the opportunity to write a planfor how to use its share of the funds. After meeting the requirementsof the new law, states have considerable flexibility for how to use thefunds to improve elections. The Congress intended these plans to be developedwith broad public input with the recognition that there are diverse needsto be met.

Minnesota is in a good position, as SecretaryKiffmeyer notes in her plan: "Because of the progress we've already made,and because of superior election administration structures we've hadin place for many years, compliance with HAVA will be easier for Minnesotathan for many states." Unfortunately, that advantage may be lost if Kiffmeyer'splan remains in its current form. After a public review and comment periodrunning through July 8, the plan will be finalized and submitted to thefederal government.

"The Secretary's plan does little more thanrecite HAVA's requirements and fails to say how the state will fulfillthose requirements," says FairVote's Solgard. "With such a vague andopen-ended plan, there is simply no way to make sure the public is benefiting."

FairVote Minnesota would add specifics to the proposalto assure election security and allow more options for local governments.In a letter to Secretary Kiffmeyer, Solgard wrote "The Plan should requirethat all new electronic voting equipment produce a record of each ballotfor security and auditing purposes."

Concerns have been raised about the vulnerabilityof touch-screen voting equipment to fraud or loss of results due to systemfailure. A paper back-up copy of each ballot inspected by the voter wouldassure that the results could be audited. Likewise, a paper optical-scanballot that could be altered or destroyed should have an electronic backup copy available for verifying the results.

Interest is growing among local governmentsin alternative voting systems such as limited, cumulative, and rankedorder voting methods used in over 200 jurisdictions in the United States.In his letter to Kiffmeyer, Solgard writes, "The Plan should requirethat all new voting equipment acquired with [HAVA] payments has the flexibilityto support all four ballot types used in the United States," includinglimited, cumulative, and ranked order voting methods.

"All available evidence says this technologyis available now at no additional cost if acquired with the originalpurchase of the voting equipment," says Solgard. "If we wait until we'vealready bought the equipment to retrofit the technology, it would likelybe quite costly. Acquiring the security features in new equipment istherefore a prudent use of public money."

The full text of FairVote Minnesota's letterto Secretary Kiffmeyer is available at http://www.fairvotemn.org/articles/comment61703.html.The Secretary's plan can be read at www.sos.state.mn.us/HAVA/HAVA.html.The public is invited to comment on the plan by sending an email to HAVA.MN@state.mn.us orby writing to the Secretary of State at 180 State Office Building, SaintPaul Minnesota 55155.

Fair Vote Minnesota is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicatedto raising public understanding about the effect that voting systems,current and alternative, have on the quality of our democracy. Thegroup publishes the biennial study, "No-Contest Elections."

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