According to Local 6, about 13,000 ballots in Florida were put in jeopardy today because of a bad memory card in an optical-scan voting machine. When the error was discovered, representatives from both parties were notified and the ballots were removed from the site and placed in a vault. Now, it's up to the canvassing board to decide how to recount the ballots.
But suppose it had been a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machine that produces no paper whatsoever? There would be nothing to put in a vault. And there would be no debate over how to do the recount, because there would be nothing to recount.
Voters from at least half a dozen states reported that touch-screen voting machines had incorrectly recorded their choices, including for president.
Voters discovered the problems when checking the review screen at the end of the voting process. [...]
There are new reports today through the Election Incident Reporting System (EIRS) of machine failure in many precincts in Philadelphia. This is resulting in long lines and some people leaving without voting. While some machines have been fixed, others are reportedly still not working.
The good news: poll workers are evidently directing people to fill out provisional paper ballots. The bad news: some polling places have only 30 provisionals on hand.
It looks like New Orleans is becoming a major hotspot for voting problems: there are reports through the EIRS of more than 80 incidents, some involving entire precincts, with the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline ringing off the hook.
"In a situation like this, election officials should start offering people paper ballots, using absentees or others," says EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "And they need to keep the polls open later to compensate. This is plainly the result of poor planning and they need to move quickly now."
The problems being reported include:
More details have emerged on the e-voting meltdown in New Orleans. With 80+ incidents being reported through the EIRS in only the first few hours of voting, it seems clear that election officials did not anticipate the machines breaking down and do not have adequate back-up procedures.
Two specific incidents being reported:
EFF recently launched the Paper or Plastic 2004 campaign to let California voters know they have the legal right to vote on paper at the polls today, but we've only had a week or so to get the word out, and we're not sure how far the news has spread. Today we hit on a novel approach -- going low-tech. To this end, created an 8.5 x11 poster [PDF] with a simple message: "YOU CAN REQUEST A PAPER BALLOT."
Earlier today a group of e-voting "solution" vendors issued a bizarre preemptive press statement asserting that 1.) today's election demonstrates that there are few problems with e-voting machines, and 2.) if there are problems, the voters are to blame:
The Internet is buzzing about whether the electronic voting systems used in this election really worked as "well" as they appeared to work. Is it possible that some machines malfunctioned in ways that skewed results? Could the 4,530 votes lost due to a data storage error be only the tip of the e-voting iceberg?
The good news first: From what we can tell, it is unlikely that the problems with touchscreen machines changed the outcome of the presidential race. But that doesn't make it impossible, and EFF is still looking into some problems in Ohio and elsewhere that could be very important.
One of the most serious problems with touchscreen voting machines reported on Election Day was the misrecording of votes, sometimes called "ghost voting" or "jumping votes." This is when a voter attempts to vote for one candidate and the machine indicates that he or she has voted for another, either immediately or at the summary screen stage. In an even more disturbing variation of the problem, some voters discovered that the machine had "pre-voted" for a candidate or even a slate of candidates, and that they consequently had to "unvote" the default choices.
The US government has responded (PDF) to EFF's motion to unseal the mysterious government order that resulted in the seizure of two servers hosting more than 20 Independent Media Center (IMC) websites. The reply, which argues that the order should remain secret, contains details that suggest that the order may have originated in Italy.
In the reply, the government contends that the seizure order should be kept sealed because (1) EFF and our Indymedia clients lack standing to contest the seizure, (2) the request for confidentiality came from an unnamed foreign government pursuant to a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), trumping the Bill of Rights, and (3) disclosure would imperil "an ongoing criminal terrorism investigation."
The Associated Press reports that "a hand recount of ballots cast using optical scanning technology gave a Democrat enough extra votes to bump a Republican from victory in a county commissioner's race." According to the article, the scanning system somehow interpreted straight-Democratic Party votes as votes for Libertarians.
That's the message of EFF's latest white paper, Noncommercial Email Lists: Collateral Damage in the Fight Against Spam. The paper grew out of our effort to help groups like MoveOn.org deliver messages in the face of anti-spam technologies that obstruct, delay, or outright trash email that recipients have specifically requested. Says co-author Cindy Cohn, "If the government treated free speech this poorly, the First Amendment would be in serious trouble."
For years, progressive groups like the Consumer Project on Technology (CPTech) have struggled to convince the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to rethink its "IP Uber Alles" philosophy -- that is, the pursuit of maximal intellectual property protection for its own sake, regardless of the human, cultural, or economic impact. The stakes are high. As James Boyle points out in his Manifesto on WIPO and the Future of Intellectual Property, WIPO decisions affect everything from the availability and price of AIDS drugs, to the patterns of international development, to the communications architecture of the Internet.
I've been at the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for the past two days, in Geneva, Switzerland, attending the negotiations over the Broadcasting Treaty, which has the power to lock up the public domain and break the web. There's a bunch of us copyfighters here, and we're methodically noting all the events and undertakings as they unfold. It's been full of drama -- all of the handouts set out by the "public interest" groups (e.g., us, civil society coalition, IP Justice, Union for the Public Domain) were repeatedly stolen and pitched into the trashcans in the bathrooms! Click through to get the whole story: the gory transcript of the nations of the world being duped into shafting their citizenry to defend the narrow interests of a few companies.
Here's today's notes from WIPO -- what a doozy. Luckily, we had the largest-ever coalition of public-interest activsts in the building, which meant that three or four of us could collaborate on the note taking while other lobbied, prepped presentations, and stood guard over the literature table, whence malefactors unknown were regularily scooping up all the public-interest position papers and handouts and thowing them out/hiding them in the toilets. The outcome was great -- I think there's a really good chance that "webcasting" won't make it into the treaty tomorrow, which means that however bad this may be, at least it won't directly touch the Internet.
Let me try to convey to you the depth of the weirdness that arose when all the public-interest groups' papers were stolen and trashed at WIPO. No one gets into the WIPO building without being accredited and checked over, so this was almost certainly someone who was working on the treaty -- in other words, a political opponent (none of the documents promoting the Broadcast Treaty were touched).
As the Indian delegation put it, WIPO is an organization based on information. For someone who believes in an information-protection instrument like the Broadcast Treaty to sabotage the negotiation by hiding information from the delegates is bizarre. The people who run the table were shocked silly -- this has apparently never happened before at WIPO.
Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to take the floor and give an "intervention" (WIPO-speak for "talking") on a killer proposal from Chile for a harmonized set of limitations and exceptions to benefit the disabled, educators and archivists. What this means is that every country would have a core set of public rights in copyright that you could count on wherever you were. F'rinstance, in the USA, you're allowed to convert a book to Braille without the author's permission, but not so in many other countries. If you pick up a Braille book in New York on your way to Madrid, will you be breaking the law when you land? What if you're exporting them to the Ivory Coast? A unified set of limitations and exceptions (that acted as a minimum set of public rights in every country) would be the first public-interest project undertaken by WIPO -- let's hope they do it!
The first problem with the omnibus intellectual property bill barreling through Congress's lame duck session this week is figuring out what's in it. That's because the bill is a ragtag collection of old bills from special interest backers who couldn't get them through during Congress's ordinary session. So now, they're trying again, knowing that their bills will face less public scrutiny in the rush to close the session.
But the bills -- bad ideas the first time they were introduced -- don't taste any better together. Among the bills the package probably includes:
Today at WIPO saw a flat-out disgraceful cooking of the deliberative process. The administrators of the meeting -- the chair and secretariat -- are pushing hard to make this treaty pass, even if no one wants it to. The solution to the deadlock is "regional meetings" in which countries that oppose the treaty can be isolated and arm-twisted into coming into line, and where few or no public-interest NGOs will be present. Some of the most populous countries in the world -- India and Brazil -- along with many others called for a better approach: any region that wants a meeting can have one, but the real action would be at an "inter-sessional meeting" held in Geneva, with all countries represented.
There have been a lot of interesting responses to our latest white paper on spam. We appreciate the feedback, and in response, we've complied a list of issues you've raised and provided our replies. We hope this helps clarify EFF's position on some of the more tricky questions in this debate.
The Argument Against "Pay to Play"
Some groups and individuals have argued that the best way to prevent spam is essentially to "tax" it through proposals like e-stamps. We believe it's unlikely that this kind of scheme would succeed in preventing any significant amount of spam. But more importantly, we believe that introducing artificial costs into Internet communications would do a lot more damage to the owners of noncommercial email lists than it would to spammers.