Minimum Requirements for a New Voting System


A RFP (request for proposal) for a new voting system for Sedgwick, Shawnee, Johnson and Wyandotte counties was issued last month.

Here are the three big requirements for a transparent voting process:
1 – Voter Marked Paper Ballots; DRE machines , such as our current ones, are unacceptable.
2 – Open Source software; Proprietary software is unacceptable.
3 – Post election audits conducted to verify results.

None of these requirements are mentioned in the RFP. Personally, I consider this a major problem.

Voter Marked Paper Ballots

Any voting system that does not require voter marked paper ballots should be considered unacceptable. This is not an unreasonable requirement. It is a requirement of many localities, including the entire state of New Mexico and Douglas County here in Kansas.
The DRE machines seem designed to make verification difficult to completely impossible. The audit I am looking to do in Sedgwick County will be difficult and expensive to accomplish and even with the paper trails, might not be able to detect rigging of individual machines.

Open Source software

All software must be open source. Proprietary software for voting machines is wrong. Not just bad – which it is – but morally wrong. I am personally of the opinions our legislature should outlaw it, but that seems unlikely. Proprietary software, particularly when paired with no auditing requirements, is an invitation to scoundrels that our voting system is ripe for exploitation.

Post Election audits

Post Election audits must be routine after every election. But they must be conducted by an independent auditor who is not receiving any renumeration from the contractor who is providing the voting system. The ability to audit the voting system should be part of the grading of responses to the RFP. With forethought, a system can be designed to facilitate taking random samples for comparison to the machine generated totals at a minimal cost.

There are many other details in the RFP that Ms. Lehman and her staff are correct to have included – i.e. appropriate facilities for disabled voters, logistics of moving machines in and out of various locations, etc. No doubt they have their preferences for those details and it’s not of much concern to me as long as the ballots are securely transported and protected. Although I’m not entirely comfortable with contracting out the transportation of ballots and machines, it’s not an easy task to run an election. Someone must be hired and instructed on how to do it properly. But the three requirements listed above are all necessary for our votes to be transparently counted. If any one is compromised, our election results are susceptible to undetectable tampering. As it is now.
The RFP released in October does not require any of these three. I don’t think precludes them either, but I would be surprised to see any proposals that meet the first two criteria I’ve laid out here. (The third one must be funded independently of this contract.)

Letter Writing Campaign

I’d like to start a letter campaign regarding this proposal to Sedgwick County, acting as the Lead Agent for this contract. Particularly, if you live in Johnson, Shawnee or Wyandotte County.

I am going to write and notify them of my concerns. If you share my concerns; please let the purchasing committee know. Contact information is:

Sandra L. Gritz, Chief Deputy Election Commissioner, Sedgwick County Election Office, 525 N. Main, #101, Wichita, KS 67203

Just let Sandra know you support my requirements and hope to see them included in the final selection of a new voting system. I’ve spoken with her and she’s promised to let Tabitha Lehman, Elections Commissioner, and the rest of the committee know of our concerns.


Beth Clarkson

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10 thoughts on “Minimum Requirements for a New Voting System”

  1. Beth,
    We’d love to have you up to Topeka to discuss this and other topics close to your investigation. The SOS’ office won’t give me the time of day anymore. I have been asking them about this since the first RFP went out in 2002 under Greg Bryant, the deputy SOS for elections. There are many ways to compromise our vote, beginning at the machine and ending with the GEMS tally software the state uses.

    Jeff Zamrzla
    Chair, Shawnee County Democrats

  2. I completely support your proposal, Beth Clarckson, and will notify the committee that these issues need to be dealt with in making changes in the voting process in Sedgwick Co. and all of Kansas.

  3. I agree with Dr. Beth Clarkson’s three proposed requirements in the purchase of new voting machines for Sedgwick, Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties.

  4. Great idea and this is very important. Too important to simply request a letter campaign. I suggest you also start a petition as this will get huge circulation and is easy to obtain signers. It will go viral, it’s easy for people to sign and FREE. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Kansas or four KS counties. Lots of people will support this and out of staters really help, too. It brings instant attention.

    “ has emerged as one of the most influential channels for activism in the country.” Washinton Post

    One person, YOU, can and are making a difference and so glad you are a professional statistician. Thanks for stepping up. I will help electronically circulate a petition if you do it. Just let me know.

    Kay Johnson

  5. The touch screens should be completely outlawed, even if they provide a so-called paper trail. There are too many ways to maliciously program these machines. Opti-scans (machines that merely COUNT the paper ballots marked by the voters) would be OK, even ideal, IF AND THIS IS A BIG “IF” there is an ample (not just 1% but closer to 10%) REQUIRED audit of the paper ballots in randomly chosen precincts following each election to make sure the purported vote matches the actual (paper) vote and IF IT DOESN’T, there must be a requirement that the whole vote be recounted using the actual paper ballots. If the paper count doesn’t match the machine count, heads should roll. I think long prison terms should be mandatory for anybody that can be shown in court to have falsified an election.

  6. You might want to include New Hampshire. New Hampshire has required electronic voting equipment to be of the type where the voter marks a computer readable ballot since 1994. It has worked well.

    I suggest the TAR (Targeted Audit Recount) as an audit strategy. That’s where the losing candidates pick the lion’s share of the precincts to be audited. The audit includes a hand recount of the ballots and an optional mailing to the voters to ensure they exist and actually voted.

  7. Paper ballots work. They are cheap, easy to understand, require minimal moving and storage, do not need to be replaced every few years, do not require expensive maintenance.

    Kansas does not have $7 MILLION to waste on replacing an expensive, unwieldy system that voters do not trust, with a new system that is plagued with exactly the same problems.

    Talk to election commissioners in Kansas counties that use paper ballots. Talk to Oregon. There are zero problems and the votes can be recounted!

    Voters do not trust electronic voting machines. The code is proprietary and cannot be reviewed. There is often no paper trail at all, and even when there is, as we are seeing in Kansas which refuses to allow an independent audit of the paper tapes, the government will not allow an audit.

  8. My letter…

    Thank you for taking the time to read my email and to listen to those of us who are concerned about the issues that Beth Clarkson has outlined.

    As a resident of Shawnee county I was unaware this RFP had even been issued.

    At a minimum the following three requirements should be part of the RFP and should be part of the criteria a vendor is evaluated on.

    1 – Voter Marked Paper Ballots; DRE machines , such as our current ones, are unacceptable.
    2 – Open Source software; Proprietary software is unacceptable.
    3 – Post election audits conducted to verify results.

    Transparency in government, no matter how uncomfortable or time consuming it proves to be, is absolutely essential in creating a society where all can feel fairly represented.

    The latest trend in government to hold closed door meetings, to discuss issues outside of public view, to distort information, to create legislation in a less-than-honest manner, and to rig the system in such a manner as it can be abused by those in power without being held accountable needs to be challenged at every opportunity no matter how insignificant the issue may appear to be.

    As an example, much of our commerce and banking system depends on encryption in order to reduce fraud and guarantee financial transactions. The encryption algorithms programs are open source. They must be in order to have qualified individuals evaluate and insure the integrity of the algorithm for general use. It simply isn’t enough to have to rely on someone or some institution saying “trust me” without being able to verify that, in fact, they are trustworthy. By the way, that is one of the functions of gossip and our news media – to verify someone is who they say they are and that their behavior is consistent across interactions with all individuals.

    Without attempting to be melodramatic the future of our society and institutions depends on this trust. We are already witnessing a breakdown in trust in our institutions – our police force, Congress, our judicial system, our religious institutions, our schools, and our penal system. Imagine what happens when we no longer trust the dollar and the institutions behind our banking institutions!

    Being able to vote and knowing that your vote will be counted is as important a step as any other in establishing trust and insuring we have a strong and accountable representative form of government.

    Thank you.

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