-Aspen's historic May 5, 2009 IRV election audited as single ballots- 5/5/09 Aspen CO held an instant runoff election (IRV) for mayor and 2 council members. Interpreted contents of each ballot, scanned by True Ballot, were publicly released. Open records requests for a CD of image scans were denied. Aspen has been sued to protect records from destruction and to allow inspection of the scanned ballot files. A Court of Appeals ruling holds that unidentifiable ballots are public records.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Millard Zimet's commentary about his complaint

Mick! Marilyn! SEX! Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about your rights under the Colorado Constitution to have a secret ballot election.

I recently filed a complaint with the Aspen Election Commission, asking the Commission to determine whether Aspen’s May 2009 election was a secret ballot election as required under the Colorado Constitution. I’d like a few moments of your time to explain why I did that and why your rights are at stake.

They know where you voted and they know when you voted. Each precinct has a log, where you are signed into the system in the order that you entered. That log is a public document, and the campaigns of all the serious candidates monitor the logs so they can keep track of who voted and who didn’t. Big Brother government is the keeper of the logs, but many people have full copies of them.

Can they find out how you voted? Decide for yourself. The City scanned all the ballots. Then they released data (called the “Strings”) showing how each ballot was voted.

Unfortunately the City didn’t “shuffle”, or otherwise randomize, the order of the Strings before they released that data. And the City never shuffled the ballots. Rather, the City says they “cut” the ballot deck, and took some other sorting measures, when they scanned the ballots.

Because the City didn’t randomize the data there are inevitably going to be sequences of the Strings that match up with sequences of the logs. Say I have a brand new deck of cards. I’d have to cut it a lot of times in order to randomize the cards. That’s why most people shuffle.

So if I can find my String I can probably see how the people around me on my log voted (and vice versa). How hard is it to find your String? Not very if you remember how you voted and where you voted. Approximately 88% of the Strings are unique and not matched by another voter. And the Strings are conveniently packaged by precinct into separate fields, so you’d only have to search one field of the Strings and not the whole thing.

It is my understanding that one of the Council members may have found his String. So now we have a situation where a sitting Council member could potentially see how the people listed on the log near him voted.

The City says my line of reasoning relies on probability and that I can’t 100% prove any of this. I say it’s bad enough that I can even make this claim. The key fact is that the City released non-randomized voting data.

And so the City (without admitting or denying anything, lest they shake voter confidence in the May election) says it will remember to shuffle next time, so there’s no need to look into this move along nothing to see here move along. Evidently they believe that when the government violates our constitutional rights they can just mumble something about doing better next time and get a pass.

Be that as it may, and regardless of how one feels about Mick or Marilyn (or sex), we’ve got to be aware that elections have become computerized. It’s a fact of modern life that there’s a wealth of data out there about each of us, and data mining is here to stay. Modern election campaigns are high tech affairs, and they aggressively seek out any data they can get on voters. Similarly, the election process is highly computerized and centralized, and just recently it was announced that industry leader Election Systems and Software, Inc. was purchasing Diebold’s election division in a deal that is certain to create serious antitrust concerns. And then there’s Big Brother government.

We’ve got to establish the precedent now that computerized voting data must be handled in a manner that preserves voters’ constitutional rights to a secret ballot. So I have asked the Aspen Election Commission to investigate and determine whether the May 2009 election was a secret ballot election as required by the Colorado Constitution.

I’m sorry this guest opinion is not about Mick, Marilyn, or sex. Neither is my complaint.


Marilyn Marks said...

Millard's coomplaint may be found at http://theredant.squarespace.com/red-ant-blog/2009/8/30/big-brother-knows-how-you-voted-millard-zimet.html

Marilyn Marks

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtfull post on confidence .It should be very much helpfull

Karim - Creating Power

Rob Richie said...

Having this public data is a useful means to audit elections, verify tallying software worked accurately and better understand the election, but your concern certainly is a legitimate one. As a precautions, jurisdictions should release ballot data after scrambling the order, as you suggest.

In the case of the May 2009 Aspen election, however, did the order of how voters signed in affect the order in which ballots were scanned for the publicly available strings? That scanning was done centrally, using a different scanning system than the optical scan system used in the precincts. (Indeed, doing that central scan caught the fact that the precinct scanners completely missed counting 0.4% of ballots -- see http://www.fairvote.org/?page=27&pressmode=showspecific&showarticle=258 . Were the ballots kept in rigid order after being cast at the precincts and transported to the facility for the central scan? Were they then scanned at the central location in that exact same order?

If the ballot order could have changed as they were collected and scanned centrally, then finding what you believe to be your ballot wouldn't mean the ballot strings next to yours were cast by the people who voted before and after you.

But suppose he ballots were kept in rigid order and scanned centrally in that order. Still, the person who signed in right before or after you might not have put their ballot through the precinct scanner right before or after you. Some people take longer with their ballots then others. Some people had their ballot rejected for some reason and they had to vote again. Even a single change like that would throw off the whole attempt to identify how other people voted.

Kathy said...

Whenever there are sequential voter pollbooks or registration books used in the polls, all ballots cast on a Diebold DRE voting system with voter verifiable paper rolls (and on other vendor's similar equipment) likewise violate ballot secrecy because anyone who has access to the pollbooks and to either the sequentially stored electronic ballots on the memory cards or hard drives or to the sequentially stored paper roll ballot records, can figure out how 90%+ of voters voted. At least Aspen uses paper ballots and so can shuffle them the next time to achieve ballot secrecy. Many states are currently violating their ballot secrecy laws due to using DRE voting machines.

Ofcourse the use of IRV has many other negative consequences that eviscerate public transparency and make the process of voting a gambling act and unfair.

Millard Zimet said...

In response to Rob Richie's comments above:

1. Mr. Richie asks whether the ballots were kept in rigid order, and were they then scanned in the exact same order. I don't know that they were. But I do know that no effort was made to shuffle or randomize the ballots. Therefore many ballots would have stayed in order because no deliberate attempt was made to disrupt the order. Likewise, no attempt was made to shuffle the order of the strings.

2. Mr. Richie wrote that the ballot order could have changed, and undoubtedly for some ballots the order did change. And undoubtedly some voters did vote faster than others. But because the City didn't shuffle for many voters their string would appear together with the strings of the people who voted around them on the log. The correlation would be highest for people (like me) who used the early voting station at City Hall or for people who used one of the polling stations at a low traffic time.

3. The City should not have released non-randomized voting data.

Rob Richie said...

Thanks, Millard. That's helpful. I agree that shuffling ballots is the right thing to to do, but from what I've heard,in this situation you don't know if the strings next to the string you've identified as yours match the people who signed in before or after you. Even just one change in ballot order (which could have happened for early voters and low-peak time voters too, as ballots weren't bound) or one person voting faster or slower than others throws off the ability to know how people voted.

Rob Richie said...

Kathy Dopp's opposition to IRV is clear, but I should say that other leaders in the election integrity world disagree with her, like Mark Halvorson with Citizens for Election Integrity (http://www.ceimn.org/) and David Dill with Verified Voting. We posted on our website an interesting statement from the leader of Ireland's election integrity fight against DRE's who is big fan of IRV and ranked ballot. See:

Marilyn Marks said...

If you are suggesting that one cannot identify 100% of the voters with 100% certainty, you are right.
No one is suggesting that anyone can.
However, a little work with just a handful of ballots will demonstrate that there are many you can determine with a high likelihood of being correct.
In fact our city attorney has already stated that the ballot images cannot be released for this reason. That the poll book entries match the general sequence of the TIFF file numbers, making it possible to determine voter identity in many cases.

Additionally, the fact that one can find one’s own string with about 95%+ confidence level further demonstrates the point. Over 88% of the ballots were unique when only the mayor race and council race were considered. The % goes way up when you add the precinct information and the museum vote information. Since almost everyone can find their own ballot (if they remember how they voted), then we have a problem on its face, without even considering that in our small town, many of us were standing in line with neighbors to drop our ballots in the box, and know who dropped their ballot before us and after us, without even looking at the poll book. The poll book is further evidence.

If the standard is 100% proof of 100% of voters being identifiable, then no, we don’t have a problem. If on the other hand, a number of people’s votes are very likely discernable, with high probability of accuracy, including one’s own vote, then we do have a problem. I can tell you from the ½ hour’s work I’ve done on this, I’m very uncomfortable with the information I’ve gleaned. Uncomfortable enough not to want to look at any more poll book sequences. Personally, I am uncomfortable if even a handful of voters’ votes are likely known, when the voter expected anonymity. It does not need to be 100% proof to be a serious problem, in my view.

Marilyn Marks

Joyce McCloy said...

"Rob Richie said...
Kathy Dopp's opposition to IRV is clear, but I should say that other leaders in the election integrity world disagree with her, like Mark Halvorson with Citizens for Election Integrity (http://www.ceimn.org/) and David Dill with Verified Voting."

There's an old saying: "If the facts are on your side, bang on the facts. If the law is on your side, bang on the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, bang on the table."

So, that said, lets go back to the real issue: IRV. The issue is whether IRV is transparent to voters and whether it makes things better or worse.

Like Kathy Dopp, liberal blogger Brad Friedman (www.BradBlog.com) has expressed dire concerns about IRV. Brad has even compared IRV to a virus in his article 'Instant Runoff Voting' (IRV) Election Virus Spreads to Los Angeles County :Joins 'Internet Voting' and 'Vote-by-Mail' schemes as the latest bad ideas poised to further cripple American democracy

If you want pro IRV talking points, head towards www.FairVote.org

If you want to hear the flip side of IRV with documentation, see
"Realities Mar Instant Runoff - 18 Flaws and 3 Benefits