Board of Elections Would Ease Third-Party-Recognition Rule, Restrict Electronic Voting

The South Dakota Board of Elections is poised to give more love to third parties and less love to Russian hackers and electronic voting machines.

At its September 27 meeting in Pierre, the Board of Elections will consider draft legislation to make it a little easier for third parties to maintain official recognition. Draft Bill #1 makes this change to the definition of political party in SDCL 12-1-3:

(10) “Political party,” commencing with the 2014 general election and every general election thereafter, a party whose candidate for any statewide office at the last preceding general election received at least two and one-half percent of the total votes cast for that statewide office shall remain a political party for the next two general election cycles; [South Dakota Board of Elections, 2018 Proposed Draft Legislation, Draft #1, posted September 2017]

Recall that the 2017 Legislature already cut third parties some slack with House Bill 1034, which expanded the criteria for keeping party status from fielding a gubernatorial candidate who wins at least 2.5% of the vote to fielding any statewide candidate who wins at least that many votes. By the intent of HB 1034, Libertarians would have kept their party status through the 2018 election thanks to the strong showings of their 2014 candidates for attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer, and commissioner of school and public lands, and Constitutionists would have kept their status thanks to 2.5%+ showings by their candidates for secretary of state and public utilities commissioner.

However, by dropping the reference to Governor, HB 1034 made the party recognition criterion reset with every general election. The Libertarians and Constitutionists did place statewide candidates for Presidential Electors on the 2016 ballot, but only the Libs’ Johnson Electors won more than 2.5% (Johnson polled 5.63%; Cons’ man Castle drew only 1.10%). Under HB 1034, the Constitutionists thus lost party status after the 2016 election and would have to petition their way back to status with 6,936 signatures again in 2018.

Draft Bill #1 cuts the Constitutionists a break and lets their strong (3.97% for Lori Stacey for SOS; 4.95% for Wayne Schmidt for PUC) 2014 vote tallies keep their brand on the ballot through the 2018 election.

Meanwhile, Drafts #2–5 respond to current events by striking direct recording electronic devices from the voting machines allowed in South Dakota elections. Direct recording electronic devices are the push-button or touchscreen voting systems that don’t record votes on paper and have been reported to occasionally register a vote for a candidate other than the one the voter touches. Draft Bill #2 also goes Battlestar Galactica and bans connecting any voting equipment, ballot-marking devices, or tabulating machines to the Internet. Draft Bill #3 bans transmitting uncounted votes or ballots through the Internet.

These restrictions on electronic and networked voting systems appear to respond to recommendations security experts made to Congress this summer that we should phase out electronic voting machines and make use voter-verified paper ballots in all elections. Norway and the Netherlands went that direction this year, voting on paper and counting all ballots by hand in response to fears raised by Russia’s widespread efforts to hack Western elections.

If the Board of Elections approves these proposals on September 27, the Secretary of State will forward them to the Legislature for consideration and passage as emergency bills (i.e., to be enacted immediately, before the 2018 primary) in the 2018 Session.

10 Responses to Board of Elections Would Ease Third-Party-Recognition Rule, Restrict Electronic Voting

  1. I was a volunteer “resolutions board” member in Minnehaha County for many years. My job was to work with another volunteer on election night while votes were being counted. We manually and visually inspected any ballot that did not feed through an electronic voting tabulation machine or fed through with an error message.

    In my experience, about one ballot in 1,000 required review by the resolutions board. Almost all were ultimately counted, as the most common problems were poorly folded ballots and blank ballots. Following state law changes in 2001, a very few ballots must not be counted in each election because the voter literally marks the ballot outside the lines and “spoils” the ballot. [Prior to 2001, resolutions board members could assess and agree on voter intent and agree to count the vote (such as when a voter circled the candidate’s name rather than filling in the bubble next to the name).]

    Even though I have a background in technology, I’ve always been leery of taking paper completely out of the ballot process. It’s too easy to trick a machine: any voting system should ultimately rely on a verifiable physical ballot.

  2. Mr. Lansing

    Legislating that a voter machine can’t be hooked to the internet is worthy but ineffective. The software that updates each machine for each election was hooked to the internet and can easily pass encryption and encrypted data to a voting machine without the voting machine having been online.

  3. Mr. Lansing, I agree: as long as machines are counting the votes, machines can be rigged and the votes corrupted in ways that do not happen when we have election officials like Mr. Wyland eyeballing the ballots. I’m willing to go all paper, all hand-counted, for every election and wait a day or two for results.

  4. Cory:

    Thanks for the kind words. I’m willing to trust the electronic tabulators used in Minnehaha County, for two reasons. First, in my experience, they are never connected to the Internet and software updates are hand-delivered by the machine vendor. Second, I still remember the 2000 general election. One of the three tabulation machines broke at 8:30 p.m., and it took until after 2:00 a.m. to count ballots using the remaining two machines. (By the way, there are significantly more registered voters in the county today than there were in 2000.)

    I don’t know about other jurisdictions, but Minnehaha County is experiencing chronic difficulty getting all the volunteers it needs to staff polling places and do things like sit on resolution boards. Finding yet more volunteers to actually count ballots well into the night (or for a day or two after an election) would be a real challenge.

  5. Mr. Lansing

    If a voting machine has ever been connected to the internet it has been compromised and no longer can ever be trusted. Netherlands is decades ahead of USA in just about everything. Every person I know there speaks fluent English. If the Dutch think paper ballots and hand counting are worth the time and effort they should be copied.
    [Broadcaster RTL had reported that electronic tallying software was distributed on CDs to regional counting centres where it was installed on old computers that were connected to the internet, which experts said was not secure.
    Mr Plasterk said the new vote-counting procedure should not take longer than normal.]

  6. I agree, Michael, that one challenge an all-paper election board needs to be ready for is staffing. Volunteers are hard to find; even part-time workers may be hard to recruit. But hey, folks! Your country needs you!

    “Hand-delivered by the vendor”—sure, that’s all good and fine… unless your vendor’s name is Kaspersky, or the Russian Mafia breached your vendor’s servers before the updates were loaded onto those traveling flash drives, or unless your vendor is a corporate devil with its own motivation for making sure the tabulation machines flip a hundred votes in a thousand key precincts.

    If hackers can get a quarter of America’s SSNs from Equifax, they can break into Election Services & Software’s proprietary software (which, if I understand correctly, we never get to see, so our ballots are basically counted by magic). ESS’s software is used extensively enough to make a systematic hack worth the effort. Paper ballots counted by human beings at thousands of decentralized sites do not provide the same sort of viable target. The Russians didn’t try to send 100,000 people in trenchcoats to county courthouses across America to cast bogus votes; they’ve been poking at our election computer systems. Reverting to organic ballot-marking and -counting systems removes that threat with little if any degradation of individual voting rights… unlike the oppressive voter registration requirements Trump, Kobach, et al. would impose to respond to their fairy-tale vote fraudsters.

  7. Mr. Lansing

    Colorado’s Republican Sec of State is ignorant to the issue!! Here’s why.
    ~ Colorado’s voter registration went dark for 29 minutes on Election Day after becoming overloaded with traffic, but SOS Wayne Williams said it was not related to a hacking attempt. And he said he implemented new testing procedures to make sure it won’t happen again.
    Williams also emphasized Colorado’s conversion to new election machines, now being put in place in 54 of the state’s 64 counties, that creates a paper record. “Even if you say you can hack something, we still have a paper ballot record of how you voted,” he said.
    ~ Wrong, Wayne (not the serial killer from Atlanta) Williams … Just because the computer generated a paper record, that’s not proof that the record is how the voter voted. That’s how hacking works. Only a paper ballot with actual ink from an actual voter, watched by a voting official and hopefully a volunteer observer, taken from the booth and placed in a guarded box is an actual paper record of how you vote, sir.

  8. Mr. Lansing

    This Just In … USA has banned Russian Kaspersky software from being deployed on any government computer and all Kaspersky software must be removed immediately.
    ~ It’s been shown (see link below) that voting machines are highly vulnerable and could easily have been rigged in the last election.

  9. I don’t agree with your interpretation. The CP qualified as a party under the existing law at the time which has always given us ballot access for the next 2 general elections. HB 1034 was effective after the fact. We did not lose ballot access after the 2016 election.

  10. It is possible the Board is making this change to make sure there is no question about the CP’s status.