Protecting the Integrity of Electronic Voting in Alexandria

Page updated on Jul 6, 2007 at 8:32 AM


Protecting the Integrity of Electronic Voting in Alexandria

The Alexandria Electoral Board and the Virginia State Board of Elections exert extraordinary effort to provide for the integrity of elections.

State Board of Elections Certification

According to Virginia Law, local electoral boards are limited to purchase of voting systems that are certified by the State Board of Elections, which is a bipartisan panel charged with overall supervision of elections in Virginia. Among many other duties the Board is charged with certification of voting equipment prior to purchase by any locality. By Virginia Election Law 24.2-629, prior to certification of voting equipment the State Board must report on the following:

  • The apparent capability of voting equipment to accurately register, count and report votes.
  • Whether the system can be conveniently used without undue confusion to the voter
  • Its accessibility to voters with disabilities.
  • Whether the system can be safely used without undue potential for fraud.
  • The ease of system operation and transportation by equipment custodians and officers of election.
  • The financial stability of the vendor and manufacturer.

If the system and vendor satisfy the above criteria Virginia Election Law requires an independent information technology expert to examine the system to determine the following:

  • Whether the system accurately counts, registers, and reports votes.
  • Whether it is capable of storing and retaining existing votes in a permanent memory in the event of power failure during and after the election.
  • The number of separate memory capabilities for the storage of recorded votes
  • Its mechanical and electronic perfections and imperfections.
  • The audit trail provided by the system.
  • The anticipated frequency of repair.
  • The ease of repair.
  • The anticipated life of the equipment.
  • Its potential for fraudulent use
  • Its accessibility of voters with disabilities.
  • The ease of its programming, transportation, and operation by voting equipment custodians and officers of election.
  • Any other matters deemed necessary by the Board.

If and when the independent authority verifies that equipment meets the above requirements it may be certified by the State Board of Elections.

Alexandria Electoral Board

The following security features and steps mandated by law and the local electoral board specifically ensure the veracity of electronic voting in Alexandria:

All electoral board members and the registrar, as well as their employees and precinct officials, are sworn to uphold all laws and to "prevent fraud, deceit and abuse" in conducting elections. It is a solemn oath that each takes seriously.

The eSlate voting system is hard-wired and stands separate from any information technology network. It is not susceptible to wireless or internet hacking, manipulation, or interference. At the same time it is transparent in terms of making use of reports and coding that can be audited, providing both an electronic and paper trail of system preparation and operation.

System Preparation

After candidate sequence is determined by drawing of lots prior to each election, the bipartisan electoral board sets up the ballot and prepares the counting system. This is not done by an outside vendor or programmer as in some other localities and states. Alexandria's election system is not vulnerable to the kind of third party or vendor manipulation that has been suggested in Georgia, Florida, Maryland and other states.

Each ballot is set up and accounted for in three separate physical locations in the system; two in the booth control unit and one in each eSlate. A logic and accuracy test under electoral board supervision and bipartisan observation is then conducted. Testers cast votes in the system and produce results to verify system accuracy. To corrupt the system at this point a conspiracy of a dozen or so bipartisan electoral board members, board employees, and bipartisan political party observers would have to be executed.

After the logic and accuracy test a "zero tape," ensuring no votes are on the system, is printed and left on the printer in each booth control unit. The control units are then relocated away from eSlates. To corrupt the election at this point, the perpetrator would have to disable an alarm and motion detector, break into a heavily locked door, replace firmware within each unit and reset each eSlate separately (225), and conceal all evidence of such illegal entry and activity. Further, the perpetrator would then have to repeat the illegal entry at another secure location, break 25 seals on the system, replace electronic mobile ballot boxes and firmware in each booth controller (30), apply new seals, run new zero tapes and again conceal all evidence. On Election Day

On Election Day

On election day before the polls open officials at each precinct print an additional zero tape ensuring no votes have been added to the system since testing. As voting begins an electronic audit trail is produced with each issuance of an access code and each vote cast. The access code number itself has a life of only 15 minutes ensuring the secrecy of the vote. At anytime on election day election officials can, and at close of polls will, balance the number of votes cast with the number of voters whose registrations are verified at check-in. At the close of polls officials print tally reports for the official record and on request for precinct officials, political party representatives, and observers. Official precinct paper tally reports are checked against electronically generated reports at election headquarters when control units are delivered after closing. Complete audit trails of transfers of custody of equipment, official tallies, and all other critical, official records are meticulously established. Critical documents, audit trails and electronic records are turned over to the custody of the Alexandria Clerk of Court on election day and canvass records are turned over the day after the election.

Randomly generated eSlate access codes can be used only once per election day at the polling place where it is issued greatly limiting potential for multiple voting. The Alexandria Electoral Board prefers this method of ballot activation over voting systems that make use of smart cards. These cards can be easily and cheaply reproduced creating potential for multiple voting by a single person.

After the Election

In the event of a recount or contested election, a paper ballot can be printed for each vote cast. If this fails to satisfy contestants and the courts, a third party (not connected with political parties, election officials or the system vendor) can conduct an electronic coding audit to ensure votes were recorded and tallied accurately.

The Alexandria Electoral Board anticipated the need to replace the aging AccuVote optical scan system three years prior to purchase and opened discussions with the City Manager regarding budget and other issues affecting such a move. Until it became clear in 2002 that the Help American Vote Act (HAVA) would pass Congress requiring electronic voting, the board considered both paper based and electronic systems. After HAVA, the board conducted exhaustive research and comparisons of electronic voting systems concluding that eSlate offers the most economical, accurate, accessible, and yes, secure system available.

Considering all these factors, the electoral board has faith in the integrity of electronic voting in Alexandria. Ultimately though, the faith of voters in the system is far more important than the viewpoints of elected officials or election officials. If the United States Congress or Virginia General Assembly determine that a voter verified paper trail is essential to maintain faith in the electoral system, eSlate will be retrofitted to provide it. eSlate is the most secure electronic voting system available and that is one of the primary reasons eSlate was selected..