This lawsuit filed in Travis County references e-voting machines manufactured by Hart Intercivic, but there are similar concerns about e-voting machines sold by all manufacturers, including Diebold, the source of Collin County's voting equipment. This is a re-print of Bill's comments about e-voting here in Collin County from a post in December '09, still relevant today:
Collin County has used Diebold's electronic voting machines for several years now, and not without incident. In the 2004 presidential election, a Diebold machine "locked-up" at one polling place, and election officials were unable to get the vote counts from the memory card. The votes were finally counted a week later, but only after the memory card was secretly sent to a Canadian lab for analysis.
Recently, ars technica reported, "Diebold machines have been responsible for dropping votes and derailing elections in several states, including Ohio and Alaska. These high-profile failures and repeated findings of low reliability and poor security during tests have compelled several states to ban Diebold voting machine products. The company has also been sued for a wide range of misconduct associated with its voting machine business, including fraud and even GPL infringement."
Nevertheless, in 2008 Collin County bought 410 more Diebold machines for use in future elections. The county now owns over 1,400 of these "AccuVote" machines.
A couple of years ago, Diebold, concerned about the unlimited legal liability that could ensue from machine errors in contested elections spun off the elections division after it was unable to find a buyer. Renamed Premier Elections Solutions, the old election division was then sold this year to rival Elections Systems and Software, Inc.
(from post "Reuters - Diebold sale challenged" - 12/20/09)
By Chuck Lindell/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
October 13, 2010
Alleging that Travis County's electronic voting machines are not secure or reliable, a group of voters Tuesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to let their lawsuit demanding changes go to trial.
The lawsuit, filed in 2006 but held up on procedural questions, seeks to force Travis County to provide voters with a paper copy of their just-cast ballot to review for accuracy. That ballot would then be submitted to create a record that can be checked in event of a recount or problem with a machine.
The current system, which tabulates all votes cast on a machine but does not provide individual printed ballots, cannot ensure accuracy or provide a backstop to a voting system that has had problems in the past, the voters say.
But on Tuesday, a lawyer for Secretary of State Hope Andrade urged the state's highest civil court to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that the voters cannot show they have been harmed by the voting machines and therefore have no standing to sue.
Alleging hypothetical scenarios in which votes might be lost because of tampering or malfunctions is not the solid proof of harm that the law requires, Kristofer Monson , an appellate lawyer with the attorney general's office, told the court during oral arguments.
"This is not a case about the right to vote," Monson said. "This is a case about the relative policy merits for two alternative mechanisms for performing recounts after someone has voted" — ballots printed on paper versus the computer tabulation of votes compiled by each machine.
In addition, Monson argued, the secretary of state properly followed the law in certifying in 1999 that the voting machines meet state standards for accuracy.
Travis County purchased its machines, made by Hart Intercivic Inc., in 2001.
Similar arguments failed to sway the District Court in Travis County or the 3rd Court of Appeals, which ruled 2-1 that the lawsuit could proceed to trial.
The state has asked the nine-member Supreme Court to reverse those rulings and dismiss the suit.
Timothy Herman, lawyer for the voters — who include 2006 Democratic attorney general candidate David Van Os and the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on behalf of its members — said a history of voting machine problems raises valid questions about the reliability of the ballot system in Travis County and elsewhere in Texas.
A paper record, he said, is necessary to protect voting rights guaranteed by state law and the Texas Constitution.
"The right to vote is meaningless unless you are also assured that the vote you cast is going to be counted properly," Herman said.
In briefs to the court, Herman recounted several past failures with electronic voting machines, including the loss of voting records in Collin County in 2004 and the inclusion of 100,000 uncast votes in Tarrant County in 2006.
"If a voter could demonstrate, as these voters have, that they are forced to use a machine which does not comply with the Election Code (requirement for accuracy), then they are in danger of being harmed," Herman said.
"We have right to plead it. All we want is to go back to the trial court and sort it out," he said.
Thirty-two states now require voter-verified paper ballots, according to the Verified Voting Foundation , a nonpartisan nonprofit reform group.
The Supreme Court has no deadline to rule but typically issues an opinion about 13 months after oral arguments. The case is Andrade v. NAACP of Austin, 09-0420.
Additional coverage on electronic voting on the Collin County Observer:
Reuters - Diebold sale challenged
In December 2008, State Rep. Lon Burnam had a one-car accident. The Fort Worth Democrat didn’t even get a ticket. Nonetheless, Burnam is convinced that the accident report was passed from local police to who knows what local, state, and federal agencies, via the Collin County North Central Texas Fusion System.
You may have thought fusion these days had mostly to do with cross-cultural cuisine, but in this case the Collin County fusion system is a “remotely accessed data-sharing and analysis system” that involves more than 170 agencies in 16 counties, including Tarrant and Dallas. It’s meant to provide policing agencies, the FBI, Homeland Security, first responders, and health providers with a wealth of information at the touch of a computer keyboard.
According to advocates, such information-sharing systems allow police to do a better job of tracking and apprehending dangerous criminals by giving them information covering a broad area rather than just their own backyard.
But critics aren’t sure that putting that much information — including some that has nothing to do with criminal activity — into the hands of law enforcement is really a good thing. They fear it will lead to racial profiling, the targeting of perfectly legal groups, and even harassment of individuals. One major concern is that information from various sources will be sent up the line to federal agencies, which will use it to target undocumented residents for deportation — and that the result will be a wedge driven between Latino communities and local police.
“When that happens, people often won’t even report criminal activity or come forward as witnesses to criminal activity,” said Aerin Toussaint, a policy analyst with Texas Impact, a grassroots network that includes Christian, Jewish, and Muslim individuals and institutions. The group works for public policies that enhance freedom and justice.
“I am tremendously concerned about the potential violation of privacy” with fusion systems, Burnam told Fort Worth Weekly. “I have been trying through the Open Records Act to discover what they have gathered on me. I know they gathered something in the context of my having been the director of the Dallas Peace Center for 10 years. And I want to know what it is.”
Fusion centers were started in 2004 as part of the post-9/11 anti-terrorist backlash. They are funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which developed the idea of creating multi-jurisdictional agencies that would share information in order to track and prevent terrorist and criminal activity. However, the federal government offered no strict guidelines on how the centers would be run, leaving that up to the local jurisdictions.
The first such center in Texas was opened in 2004 by the Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division. Since then several others have been created, including the one in Collin County that covers North Texas. All the participating agencies supply data to that “bank.” Dallas, which has its own center, provides only limited information to the Collin County center.
The result thus far has been the creation of overlapping data centers with different missions, each run independently — and some taking the kind of actions that civil libertarians have feared all along.
The Collin County fusion center, for instance, sent out a “prevention awareness bulletin” in February 2009, ordering law enforcement authorities to report on all civil rights meetings involving Muslims and to gather and pass along information on any anti-war groups in the 16-county jurisdiction. The ability to “order” local jurisdictions to supply information comes from the center’s federal mandate.
It turned out that the bulletin was not authorized by the Collin County head of Homeland Security, but was sent out by a computer worker in the center. [Bill notes: actually the 'computer worker' was Dr. bob Johnson, the prime contractor to the Fusion Center and the son of Congressman Sam Johnson]
In the months that followed, everyone from the ACLU to religious groups objected to it. In the wake of the scandal, center officials center limited the scope of their data collecting — but many of the agencies in its jurisdiction continued to pass along the information demanded.
“This memo is not a plea for legitimate intelligence, and seems to endorse discrimination against Muslims,” Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a press release. “The idea that the tolerance advocated by the groups being targeted would be treated as a menace to American security demonstrates a disregard for civil liberties and a disdain for democracy itself.”
The Collin County fusion system hasn’t released another such bulletin since then.
According to Lt. Todd Thomasson of the Dallas Police Department, commander of that city’s fusion center, other centers have “passed out documents that suggest that if a person has a certain bumper sticker they might be a terrorist and other misleading things.” But he said the Dallas City Fusion Center — officially called Metro Operations Support and Analytical Intelligence Center, or MOSAIC — does not participate in that sort of grab-bag information gathering.
“Dallas is part of the NCTFS, but our center only provides the Collin County fusion center with information related to criminal activity,” he said. “A lot of fusion centers around the country are multi-agency. We’re not. We are a tactical fusion center, focused on crime. We share information as it relates to criminal activity and nothing else.”
Thomasson said that while his staff has the ability to gather data from the NCTFS, neither the Collin County center nor any other agency can look into the Dallas center’s computers. “Other agencies can call us for information, but there would have to be a criminal predicate before we would release information,” he said.
Asked whether he had run into any issues with the Dallas Hispanic community, so easily targeted because of the number of undocumented aliens, he said, “We view that as strictly a federal issue.”
The Fort Worth Police Department did not respond by deadline to questions about what information they pass along to the Collin County center.
Hector Carrillo, civil rights chair of the Fort Worth LULAC chapter, said, “We have not seen any upheaval with regard to the Fort Worth Latin community from the Collin County fusion program. Yet.”
“The reason that one fusion center might target a specific race or group of people and another won’t is that different fusion centers have different missions,” said Bill Baumbach, a printing company manager and reporter who writes for D Magazine’s FrontBurner blog and runs his own blog, the Collin County Observer. “They all have the same basic concept, which is to take information from different databases to make them relational. But what data they choose to collect and what data they send on to the FBI and Homeland Security is where they differ. The Department of Public Safety’s Texas Fusion System in Austin is one of the most frightening.”
The Texas Fusion Center shares information with the Texas prison system, Homeland Security, federal treasury and immigration agencies, the Air and Army National Guard, and a host of other police and non-police agencies.
Baumbach said the DPS center also collects personal information every time a police officer talks with someone, including drivers who are pulled over and issued nothing beyond a warning. “That is gathering information on people who were not only not convicted of a crime — they weren’t even charged with one. That’s very frightening to me,” he said.
“Think of what can go into those databases. The Collin County Sheriff’s Department has bought handheld license plate scanners, and they walk around certain parking lots recording those plates. And that information is fed into the fusion center. The question is, should the government collect that information — where your car was at 3 p.m. yesterday, for instance? I don’t think so. But these fusion databases have escaped scrutiny because they wave the flag of national security.”
Because there is so little federal oversight, he said, “They’re all mavericks. You can have a good one in Dallas but one that overreaches in Collin County and affects millions of people.”
Many groups have been calling for oversight and transparency regarding the centers, almost since they began operating in 2004. In a 2009 press release, the ACLU noted that it had predicted that the “complete lack of oversight over [fusion centers’] activity would lead to violations” of civil rights.
Part of the problem, Baumbach said, is that the Collin County fusion center’s top official reports to the county administrator, who is ultimately responsible to the county commissioners. “Are the county commissioners capable and willing to set constitutionally acceptable espionage-gathering guidelines? I don’t think so.”
Area cities spending millions on IT projects
Sunday, January 31, 2010
By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News
Even as the ongoing recession squeezes municipal budgets, several cities in North Texas are spending millions on major technology projects.
Frisco, Irving, McKinney, Plano and Richardson are replacing police and fire radio systems, to the tune of $8 million to $25 million apiece.
For most, the technology spending is an absolute need. Mowing schedules can be cut, and staff hires can be frozen, but police officers, firefighters and dispatchers must be able to communicate.
"We can't lose dial tone. We can't lose data," said Steve Graves, Richardson's chief technology officer. "The radio system, that's a crucial part of doing business."
Cities usually try to space out major projects so large expenditures can be spread out over time. But Richardson and Irving are planning to install several new technology systems at once.
Graves said some of his city's project was delayed, including buying $376,000 in new hardware and software for a public safety dispatch and records management system.
"Last year, we were ready to pull the trigger on it," Graves said. "But with a new chief coming in, we wanted to give him input. We don't want to say, 'Here's the system we're giving you. Work your needs around it.' "
At the same time, during a change to the city's radio frequency, the city found that its 18-year-old communications system was in dire need of replacement. That work will cost up to $10 million. Replacing an 11-year-old phone and data network will cost about $1.7 million.
Irving's two-year, $25 million project involves replacing its 13-year-old radio system, retrofitting the city with a fiber optics network and adding a wireless network.
Shane Burton, who oversees Irving's IT infrastructure, said the wireless network will cover the entire city but will not be available to the public. Instead, it will be reserved for water meter reading and other city uses.
Like Irving and Richardson, cities that hit their growth stride years ago, Plano also needs to replace an aging radio system. Bruce Glasscock, a Plano deputy city manager, said Motorola no longer supports his city's 15-year-old system.
Plano's situation is compounded in that growing areas including Frisco, Wylie and Murphy also use its radio system. Frisco in coming months will start using its own system, further changing the area Plano's radios must cover. Plano and its partners will spend about $25 million on the new system.
"It's a major project," Glasscock said. "We've been working with council the last three to five budget years, so we've been ready for it."
On the other end of the spectrum from the landlocked inner-ring cities are Frisco and McKinney?.
"Our system was designed for a 1999 city of McKinney," McKinney Assistant Police Chief Rex Redden said. "In some areas, our officers can't get a signal. Our department has tripled in size, and our land mass has pretty much quadrupled."
McKinney's $8.3 million radio system purchase comes on the heels of a $2 million public safety software and hardware replacement last year.
Scale can magnify even seemingly small purchases. Garland is proposing to spend about $2 million to replace video units in each of its 200 patrol cars.
The department is moving from VHS systems to digital recorders, equipment that Officer Joe Harn, a police spokesman, said hadn't been perfected when Garland first installed recorders in 2005.
A key for all the cities is to use advanced equipment but not to get too far ahead of the curve, especially on critical infrastructure like police and fire radios. Buy equipment that's too advanced, and it may still have bugs to work out. Technology that's too old has a shorter life cycle. So IT directors make purchasing decisions carefully.
Science Committee to host Congressional Hearing in McKinney Sept. 14 on 'Strengthening Regional Innovation'
September 13, 2009
North Texas e-News
By House Science and Technology Committee media release
MCKINNEY, TX – On Monday, September 14, 2009 from 9:00am – 11:00am the House Science and Technology Committee will hold a hearing in the Ceremonial Courtroom of the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas.
The hearing, titled, Strengthening Regional Innovation: A Perspective from Northeast Texas, will examine the importance of regional innovation centers to the U.S. economy and global competitiveness and the roles of Federal, state, and local governments in supporting such centers. Witnesses representing key components of the North Texas innovation economy will testify.
The hearing is being held at the request of the Committee’s Ranking Republican Member, Congressman Ralph Hall (TX-4). “As we work our way through this recession, there is a growing realization that innovation is the key to long-term economic growth and prosperity, not only nationally but regionally as well,” Hall said. “Northeast Texas is a model of success in this regard, and I’m excited for the opportunity to highlight the region’s science and technology enterprise and hear from our top business and academic leaders on how the Federal government can improve innovation-related policies and investments.”
- Dr. Cary Israel, President, Collin County Community College
- Dr. Dan Jones, President, Texas A&M University-Commerce
- Mr. Patrick Humm, President, Hie Electronics
- Dr. Martin Izzard, Vice President and Director, Digital Signal Processing Solutions R&D Center, Texas Instruments
- Mr. Bill Sproull, Vice-Chairman, Texas Emerging Technology Fund Advisory Committee
- Mr. Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, National Math and Science Initiative