Duncan Buell Testifies to the SC Legislature’s Joint Voting System Research Committee

The SC Legislature’s Joint Voting System Research Committee held its first meeting on November 10, 2015 in Room 308 of the Gressette Building. After hearing from Marci Andino, the Executive Director, S. C. State Elections Commission, Katy Hubler, a Senior Policy Specialist with the Elections National Conference of State Legislatures, Matthew Masterson, a Commissioner with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and Merle King, the Executive Director of The Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, the Committee welcomed testimony from the public.  The League of Women Voters of South Carolina was present and offered testimony from League member and USC Computer Science Professor Duncan Buell.

Last March I was general chair of the Election Verification Network’s annual conference. The general theme of the conference was exactly the topic you have today – current voting system technology is aging rapidly, and it must be replaced, and the choice of what to replace it with is difficult.


In one sense you (and we) in South Carolina have an advantage in that there are several jurisdictions that have just purchased, or are purchasing, or are developing new voting systems. At one of our sessions this past March we had election officials from Tallahassee (Leon County), Florida, Fairfax, Virginia, and Philadelphia describing their process for acquisition and the reasons for their choices.


There are yet more jurisdictions that have recently acquired systems, and I would encourage you to take advantage of their analysis prior to acquisition.


There are also two large jurisdictions that are developing their own systems. Los Angeles County is developing a system for use there, but it is not clear that a system would be ready for procurement within the time frame asked for in South Carolina. The system being developed in Austin, Texas, however, is likely to be available. The design of that system has been guided by Dana Debeauvoir, clerk of court in Travis County, and has had the input of some of the best industry and academic minds in hardware system design and in security. Importantly, that system provides a single ballot marking device for all voters, using commodity hardware for low cost, and a totally transparent and totally auditable trail to ensure accurate results and thus maintain voter confidence.


I would encourage you not to make decisions without looking at these reports and systems and without consulting those from around the country who have had to make similar decisions in the recent past.


Finally, I would encourage you to consider only those systems that are totally transparent and totally auditable. The marks the voter sees that indicate the voter’s choices should be the marks that are used to tally the votes. There should be no software that intervenes, no coding or hidden transformation that is not understandable by the voter. There should be a capability of a genuine recount, not merely the running of the same computer program on the same data. And the system should be simple to operate. In all my analysis of election data from South Carolina, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas, I have not seen fraud. But we have a very complicated system, and I have seen essentially all possible errors that could be made by tired and inexperienced poll workers at the end of a very long day. The system needs to be simple. A complicated system like the one we currently have is guaranteed to result in errors.

The video of the November 10, 2015 Committee Meeting can be found here. Marci Andino’s presentation starts at 3:30 in the video.  Katy Hubler, a Senior Policy Specialist on Elections from the National Conference of State Legislatures, provides a history of voting technology, case studies from around the country, and potential funding options starting at 32:10.  Matthew Masterson, a Commissioner with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), talks about what is the EAC and how they certify voting systems starting at 52:00.  Merle King, the Executive Director of The Center for Election Systems Kennesaw State University, reflects on what was heard and what is happening in Georgia starting at 1:25:20.  D Buell starts his comments just after 1:55:30.

The Joint Voting System Research Committee has been tasked to identify and evaluate current voting system technologies that meet the standards established by Title 7 of the 1976 Code.  They shall issue a report, which shall include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • An evaluation of each form of voting system technology considered by the committee, including costs, usability, reliability, accessibility, ability to conduct random audits of election results, and security matters related to each, as well as any possible solutions to address any concerns raised;
  • Consideration of best practices established by the United States Election Assistance Commission; and
  • An analysis as to which technology should be implemented in South Carolina. This analysis shall include costs to acquire and fully implement the recommended technology for a statewide uniform voting system. The analysis must include proposed milestones and success measures for implementation.

After submitting their report by Jan. 30, 2016, the committee shall be dissolved.

Is South Carolina Ready for Automatic Voter Registration?


Automatic registration is the subject of a recently updated Brennan Center policy proposal, The Case for Automatic, Permanent Voter Registration. This comprehensive plan would upgrade America’s outdated and error-prone voting system, add up to 50 million eligible voters to the rolls, save money, and increase accuracy — while curbing the potential for fraud and protecting the integrity of elections.

Legislators in 18 states plus Washington, D.C. introduced bills in 2015 to automatically register citizens. Oregon and California enacted laws to automatically register eligible citizens to vote. Once California and Oregon implement their laws, more than 13 percent of the total U.S. population will live in states with automatic registration.

When South Carolina launced online voter registration in October 2012, we were the 13th, of what is now 38 states to embrace 21st century methods to register voters. Online voter registration boosts registration rates, increases voter roll accuracy, and saves money, but still leaves the burden of registering to vote in the hands of the elligible voter.   Are we now ready to lead the way to automatic registration and shift the burden of registering voters to the government?

Information for this post comes from a Brennan Center October 27, 2015 news release.


Brennan Center Study: Voter Registration into the Digital Age 2015 Edition

South Carolina is one of 38 states which now offer electronic and/or online voter registration.
Online registration allows voters to submit their application over the internet, and according to a new study by the Brennan Center For Justice, it boosts registration rates, increases voter roll accuracy, and saves money.

“No one should lose their vote because of registration problems due to outdated technology,” reads Voter Registration in a Digital Age: 2015 Edition. “Electronic and online registration make voting more free, fair, and accessible to all eligible citizens. Other states should embrace these systems without delay.”
Key findings from the study show:
Modernization boosts registration rates. In one data sample, 14 of 16 states with electronic registration saw sustained or increased registration rates at DMV offices through the 2014 election.

Electronic and online registration increase voter roll accuracy. Election officials overwhelmingly reported that modernization made their systems more accurate because staff no longer need to interpret illegible handwriting or manually enter voter information, thus reducing the chances for errors.

Modernized voter registration systems save money. Of the 29 states that reported tracking cost savings, all said electronic and online registration reduces costs. Washington State, for example, saves 25 cents with each online registration.


Paper Ballots Return to Maryland Elections

“Maryland voters will return to casting ballots on paper starting with the presidential election in 2016, election officials said Thursday, adding it to the long list of states that use paper ballots or a blend of paper and digital formats.”

Read the full story here.

“Electionism” in South Carolina

While the recent mid-term general election didn’t bring out about major change in South Carolina’s political landscape — far from it — three “isms” did emerge: factionalism, regionalism and “incumbent-ism.”

Read the full story here.


The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years

The abysmally low turnout in last midterm elections — the lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent.

Read the full article here.