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Texas Election System Examiners' Meetings Shrouded in Secrecy
Lawsuit Pushes for Public Access to Meetings Where E-voting Machines Are Evaluated
Austin, TX - On January 19, a Texas court is scheduled to determine whether to force the state's voting examiners to open their meetings to the public. The ACLU of Texas and a Texas voter filed a lawsuit last year, ACLU of Texas v. Geoffrey S. Connor, demanding that the public be admitted to meetings where the examiners decide which electronic voting machines to certify. While these groups waited for a response from the court, the examiners held yet another closed meeting on January 4 and 5.
"There's no technical reason for keeping these meetings closed to the public," said Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor and outspoken critic of electronic voting systems. "By allowing outside experts in security, accessibility, and election procedure to attend the meetings, the voting system vendors will receive better feedback from the ultimate users of the machines. Likewise, if outside experts find problems, the state can demand the vendors address those problems before the machines are used in the field."
Recently, the Texas Safe Voting Coalition obtained videotapes of previous meetings, including one involving Diebold Election Systems, that suggest a lack of rigor and failure to address properly security and certification compliance issues. If the court grants a temporary injunction on the 19th, the voting examiners will have to admit the public to certification meetings.
"Closed meetings about these controversial voting machines create a troubling perception," said Jon Lebkowsky, President of the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin. "How can a citizen trust a certification process that's hidden from view? This sort of thing is exactly why we have an Open Meetings Act."
If the injunction is granted, the Texas Secretary of State has promised that the state will host a "public forum" where officials will discuss for the first time the issues they considered in their private meeting earlier this month.
"Transparency in voting systems is one of the most important ways we ensure that our votes count," said Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is serving as co-counsel in the case. "Transparency needs to start from when voting machines are chosen and end with the final vote tally, including any necessary recounts."
The voting examiners are responsible for studying electronic voting machines and other voting technologies and recommending to the Secretary of State which systems should be certified for use in Texas. In the past few years, the Secretary of State has routinely adopted the recommendations of the panel, yet he has rebuffed efforts by the public to observe the proceedings, claiming that the panel is not subject to Texas' Open Meetings Act.
Here's the original complaint.
More on e-voting issues.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation