Amend or Oppose CO SB21-188

Dear Member of the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and Speaker Garnett and Governor Polis (in respect to a committee hearing for April 29 at the Colorado House State, Civics, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee)

S.1 the For the People Act has a Paper Ballot Requirement that will feel quite familiar and comfortable in Colorado at least until the latest Colorado election bill becomes law. SB-188 actually fights against the paper ballot requirement of S.1 by widening the use of electronic return that can’t produce a verified paper ballot to tabulate and audit. I recommend you do not pass SB21-188 out of your committee without major reconsideration. SB-188 is up for public comment and committee action upon adjournment Thursday April 29.

Colorado is already much respected nationwide for its verified paper ballot voted at home in the hands of the voter. SB-188 allows instead intangible electronic images of ballots to traverse the internet on the way to become unverified paper to be tabulated.  Perhaps later these paper imposters printed far from the voters eyes and accessible verification devices might be sampled for audit with little or no reason for confidence that the voter knows what is on the paper that represents their vote. It is at best poignant that the bill is attempting to add low confidence ballots to our elections at the very moment that about half the population is questioning the integrity of remote voting (absentee).

A Rutgers report published last month by the Federal Election Assistance Commission shows that less than 12 percent of disability voters would choose an electronic return method over other more conventional choices. See Table 24 in the linked report:

“The key results: About half of people with disabilities, and three-fifths of people without disabilities, would prefer voting in a polling place in the next election. About one-third of people with disabilities would prefer voting by mail , while a combined one-sixth would prefer voting by other methods.”

SB-188 is the bill that opens up an unpopular electronic return for voters who self identify as affected by disability (by simply clicking on the appropriate checkbox in the online portal).   Many voters with a disability will likely not find electronic return accessible. But many who do not have a print disability may find the electronic method more accessible than the vote by mail or drop off that is also accessible for them.

Additional comments on SB-188, including the sponsor’s introductory presentation and some suggested supplemental legislative text for amendment is found here on my website. I suggest you take a look. You may be surprised to hear that the bill passed through the Senate with zero debate on the floor.

https://electionquality.com/2021/04/internet-voting-co-sb-188/

Electronic return as it is currently done in Colorado (SBR) isn’t the voter verifiable internet-free paper that we are all proud of. The Demoracy Live and Secure Ballot Return products aren’t subject to certification and other typical oversight. The usage of those electronic methods isn’t even reported on adequately.

I tried to get the data on usage from some counties and also from the SOS and was initially rebuffed – told such reports don’t exist. Finally SOS staff generously hand created a report for me in a long delayed response to a CORA request. I am including the data from that here.

I can’t tell what these numbers actually mean – are they voters? ballots? ballot sheets? Why are some counties reporting more Democracy Live than SBR and some less ballots provided through Democracy Live than ballots returned by SBR?

DLSBRSBR div byDemocracy Live #s by Reason 
USAGECOUNTYRETURNDLUOCAVAEMERGENCYACCESSIBLE 
6 Cheyenne467% 6 0 0Cheyenne
31 Alamosa2168% 29 2 0Alamosa
16 Prowers1275% 14 1 1Prowers
73 Archuleta5575% 70 2 1Archuleta
9 Mineral778% 8 1 0Mineral
6 Lincoln583% 6 0 0Lincoln
7 Baca686% 4 0 3Baca
29 Gilpin2586% 28 0 1Gilpin
44 Custer3886% 41 3 0Custer
79 Montezuma6987% 78 1 0Montezuma
210 Routt18588% 206 4 0Routt
87 Chaffee7789% 85 1 1Chaffee
128 Grand11489% 98 30 0Grand
111 Teller10090% 111 0 0Teller
315 La Plata28791% 312 3 0La Plata
1592 Larimer146892% 1556 28 8Larimer
3407 El Paso316093% 3317 61 29El Paso
3434 Denver321894% 3301 93 40Denver
285 Summit26894% 283 1 1Summit
257 Pueblo24595% 251 4 2Pueblo
2348 Arapahoe225096% 2263 43 42Arapahoe
2497 Jefferson240496% 2452 33 12Jefferson
343 Mesa33798% 335 6 2Mesa
135 Gunnison13399% 135 0 0Gunnison
634 Weld62899% 571 55 8Weld
1509 Douglas1502100% 1484 15 10Douglas
3096 Boulder3083100% 3050 36 10Boulder
7 Crowley7100% 7 0 0Crowley
12 Huerfano12100% 12 0 0Huerfano
9 Jackson9100% 6 3 0Jackson
1 Kiowa1100% 1 0 0Kiowa
27 Saguache27100% 27 0 0Saguache
97 Montrose98101% 92 4 1Montrose
237 Pitkin240101% 231 4 2Pitkin
277 Broomfield282102% 273 1 3Broomfield
21 Las Animas22105% 20 1 0Las Animas
404 Eagle426105% 402 2 0Eagle
838 Adams890106% 802 22 14Adams
90 Fremont96107% 89 0 1Fremont
10 San Juan11110% 10 0 0San Juan
83 San Miguel93112% 82 1 0San Miguel
39 Otero44113% 38 1 0Otero
23 Moffat26113% 22 0 1Moffat
44 Morgan50114% 43 1 0Morgan
7 Costilla8114% 6 1 0Costilla
218 Garfield251115% 216 1 1Garfield
52 Ouray60115% 52 0 0Ouray
36 Logan42117% 30 3 3Logan
6 Rio Grande7117% 4 0 2Rio Grande
64 Delta76119% 62 1 1Delta
96 Elbert114119% 94 2 0Elbert
59 Clear Creek72122% 58 1 0Clear Creek
4 Sedgwick5125% 4 0 0Sedgwick
81 Park102126% 80 1 0Park
17 Yuma22129% 17 0 0Yuma
10 Conejos13130% 10 0 0Conejos
13 Rio Blanco17131% 13 0 0Rio Blanco
7 Kit Carson11157% 7 0 0Kit Carson
8 Bent15188% 8 0 0Bent
3 Dolores6200% 3 0 0Dolores
2 Hinsdale4200% 2 0 0Hinsdale
2 Phillips4200% 2 0 0Phillips
13 Lake42323% 12 1 0Lake
5 Washington25500% 5 0 0Washington
23610 Totals22931  22936 474 200Column Totals
Nov. 3 2020 Colorado General Election Democracy Live & Secure Ballot Return Usage (data provided by Colorado Secretary of State by email communication)

As you can see the total usage of the Democracy Live Disability Portal was 200 units of some thing- perhaps voters, perhaps ballot downloads or uploads. If you can find out which it is, please let me know.

It has become obvious to me that Colorado’s public doesn’t have any idea what is going on with Democracy Live and Secure Ballot Return, our special mechanisms for military, overseas, emergency and disability voters.  We know even less about the TEXT2CURE product that is a cell phone app. I am not sure if our election officials themselves have access to a good understanding of electronic delivery and return usage. As legislators you may be in a better position to get answers than I am.

I wrote up an amendment for SB-188 that would call for such reports to be made after the SOS tests and certifies that the electronic methods are ready for prime time, meaning secure, accurate, resistant to denial of service, protective of ballot anonymity/ballot secrecy, and fulfilling necessary authentication of the voter and their eligibility. You will find my amendment text on my site here:

We can all agree that existing usage of the disability portal isn’t a problematic quantity. 200 isn’t much whether voters or ballot sheets. However, I predict that usage of this portal could increase dramatically when word gets out that it exists. That could happen any time someone writes a letter to editor to explain where the link to the portal is. Such a letter only needs to include one website address.

Here are the two screens each with a check box that a voter would have to click to obtain access to the electronic methods to vote the disability enabled ballot and if SB-188 passes, to return it by the risky and unverified internet connected method.

I expect the House SCMVA Committee to take a rational position of opposition on the SB-188. The winds including in Congress are blowing in the direction of the Colorado model with our all voter verifiable (and almost all verified) paper. I would hope that the Colorado legislature will not be attempting to whistle upwind – the opposite direction – towards internet voting. With all the extra consternation about accuracy of eligibility and even tabulation from the 2020 election, now is not the time to expend huge resources on serving a small population that has real needs that can be served better other ways. 

SB-188 opens up a crowded (because it is uncontrollable) opportunity to vote by the least secure and least verifiable voting method we have to offer.

If SB-188 is to continue on to the floor, please add integrity through testing and certification and reporting to the remote accessibility voting method and arrange to curtail any inappropriate use of the disability portal. Well written amendments in that direction could tend to keep the risk of interference and denial of service and exposure of identifiable voter intent to a minimum. That minimum presupposes that the disabiity usage is confined to those who really need it.  Or PI the SB-188 and ask for a rewrite.

Thank you.

Harvie Branscomb

Carbondale CO

Colorado’s 2021 internet voting bill

4/14/2021 Colorado is speeding towards approval of electronic (internet) return of ballots for self-identified disability voters. Any person on the registration list can during an election select the disability option on Colorado’s public internet voting portal. All that is required in lieu of  the usual signature on an affidavit of eligibility is the inclusion of an election qualified ID such as a drivers license or utility bill. As of April 12 2021 the measure passed out of the Colorado Senate on a largely partisan vote of 22 to 13. There was no debate on the Bill on the floor of the Colorado Senate.

I present here some comments on the dangerous and unreasonable situation that the bill presents for Colorado and then some suggestions for legislative text to improve the quality of the Bill. I include at the end of this post a transcript of the 5 minutes of testimony by the sponsor of SB21-188 that was followed by zero debate leading to adoption in the Colorado Senate on Second Reading Friday April 9,2021. It was adopted on final passage on Monday April 12 and sent to the Colorado House.

The bill text and current status and schedule can be read here:

https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb21-188

Here is a link to my experience using the electronic portal to vote and to return and to cure a Colorado ballot: https://electionquality.com/2021/04/voting-in-colorado-via-electronic-methods/

Harvie Branscomb observations about Colorado Senate Bill 21-188 (April 14, 2021)

tarnishes Colorado’s excellent reputation for election security; takes CO further from an evidence-based election; while experts agree that sending votes across the internet is risky and the US Congress considers taking the nation to a universal verifiable paper ballot, Colorado is heading away from verified paper;

  • SB21-188 in the form in which it was adopted by the Colorado Senate on April 12 will not contribute to Colorado’s exceptional reputation for election integrity. It instead establishes that Colorado does not deserve the magnanimous current praise. Turnout is not the only measure of election quality. Colorado must consider a variety of quantitative and qualitative measures of election integrity to assess excellence. The appropriate goal for Colorado is an evidence-based election with both substantive voter verification and also system verification both by officials and by public observers. Electronic methods of vote return and particularly those using the internet are not compatible with that goal. Colorado must promote limited use of electronic return of votes only for specific instances of disability and in contexts where other safer options are not viable. Colorado must continue to lead the nation by implementing quality assurance with extensive and excellent testing, reporting, accountability and transparency. To achieve that, SB21-188 will require a rewrite.

SB-188’s electronic ballot return will be easy to misuse while it legitimately benefits few;

  • An open records request reveals that 200 people in Colorado downloaded ballots using the existing portal for voters claiming disability in November 2021. That number is something that the public ought to easily find online but will not. SB-188’s addition of electronic return to an almost uncontrolled access to the most risky of disability voting methods means hundreds of thousands of persons might use this opportunity whether they need it or not. Only a fraction of the many possible future users of SB-188 cannot mark a paper ballot and are unable to independently return a paper ballot.  Specific voters gain desirable independence as the benefit of SB-188 while many others will gain only convenience at the cost of overall integrity for the election.

current methods of remote electronic assistance in voting are neither certified nor tested nor even accounted for in publicly accessible reports;

  • The software currently used in Colorado for voting activity that crosses the internet is not certified, not to our knowledge tested by federal, state or local election officials. The counts of voter use of these alternative voting methods is not effectively reported either to officials or to the public during and after the election. SB-188 should require the Secretary of State to publish reports of counts of ballots transmitted and numbers of voters using the alternative methods.

other ways to provide accessibility are more effective; many are already in place;

  • There are more secure means to bring accessibility enhancements to specific voters who need them. Colorado law already enables visits by officials to health care facility voters as well as curbside voting. The emergency ballot process is also available on the same internet portal that already includes an electronic return option. Those options argue against any urgency of need for SB-188.

rapid growth in usage of electronic return is likely for users that do not need the method for accessibility;

  • There is no conceivable way to curtail misuse or needless use of SB-188’s return by internet. It must be considered an internet voting bill for a large constituency as soon as the knowledge about the availability of the portal is widely shared. Likely over ten percent of all voters are justifiably considered having disability. But the need for leniency in that definition means many more may use the opportunity. SB-188 depends on the honor system. The website portal to request a ballot does not ask for proof of disability, much less proof of a print(ability) disability. The knowledge about this way to abuse the system can be widely and quickly shared, leading to widespread abuse. Numerous experts (e.g. National Academy of Sciences, Senate Intelligence Committee) have testified that internet voting is insecure. The risk for intrusion and denial of service and privacy invasion increases with usage. We should seek ways to limit electronic ballot return to those who absolutely need it.

safeguards originally provided through affirmation signature are withdrawn;

  • Use of existing electronic methods currently requires a signature on an affidavit to waive the expectation of ballot secrecy because there is a risk of interference or intrusion crossing the internet and in the computers at either end. The affidavit also crucially affirms eligibility to vote. The Bill’s amendment added by the Colorado Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee no longer requires any affidavit to validate the ballot and allows a copy of an ID to suffice. Anyone may legally validate an electronically returned ballot with the submission of a copy of an ID of a registered voter for whom the disability option has been selected. The affidavit is an honor system, but it should not be discontinued. Without an affidavit, it may be more difficult to prosecute someone for impersonating a voter by returning an electronic ballot.

voter verification of paper including using the voter’s own assistive technology provides the best practice integrity and ability to audit; paper printed far from the voter isn’t verifiable;

  • Numerous situations of disability include sufficient eyesight such that the voter could take advantage of the important step of verifying the contents of the paper ballot before casting. Some blind voters have the ability to access the printed selections on a paper ballot with their own accessible devices. An accessible device or other means for the voter to read and verify the printed paper ballot before return should be the focus of the law.

remote accessible ballot marking generates digital expressions of selections that must be recreated onto official ballots by teams of election workers;

  • All ballots machine marked outside a polling place either in electronic form or on paper must be duplicated onto fresh blank paper ballots at central count before tabulation. This is inefficient and costly for local officials. A bipartisan team must perform the duplication to ensure accuracy

may require a single vendor to supply both blank ballot delivery and electronic voted ballot return.

  • Since the SB-188 requires a single system it suggests that the electronic ballot delivery, electronic marking and electronic return may be limited to a single vendor contrary to the current separation of Secure Ballot Return from Democracy Live for ballot marking. This may accidently enforce the move to a new vendor.

How to improve the bill?

I include for advanced readers some proposed text for amendment to bring the technical quality and transparency of these electronic alternative methods up to par with the rest of Colorado’s voting system. I have not proposed a way to curtail misuse by those who do not need an electronic return (for whom the emergency route via the portal seems adequate). To prevent substantial loss of integrity of the exposure over the internet, some mechanism to sanction misuse or to discourage unnecessary use is desirable.

Definition: ‘Remote electronic assistive voting technology’ means a device or software or combination of both that is used to assess eligibility of a person, authenticate a voter, capture voter intent, return votes for tabulation and cure signature issues when such device or software is used for purposes of CRS 1-5-706 ( this statute about voters with disabilities).

Legislative introduction: The Colorado Legislature recognizes that voters using remote electronic assistive voting technology provided by the DEO deserve equal provision for integrity to voters that have not chosen to use the technology. The Secretary of State is therefore required to certify and may add conditions for use of remote electronic assistive voting technology prior to approving the acquisition of such systems.

For purposes of assisting voters with disabilities the Secretary of State shall establish a testing program that will assess the accuracy of capture of voter intent, the authenticity and eligibility of the voter, security against intrusion, ballot anonymity, and usability for specific disabilities. The SOS shall promulgate rules containing criteria for acceptance that depend upon the assessment metrics that are developed pursuant to this paragraph. The SOS shall publish on its website the results any such assessment and will also publish data quantifying usage of remote electronic voting technology in each election applicable to the State. Usage data shall include number of  voters and number of applicable ballot sheets reported by district for each phase of electronic assistance: ballot fulfillment, marking, return and cure.”

Here is a transcript of the promotion of the SB21-188 on the Colorado Senate floor by the principal sponsor Senator Danielson (former leader of America Votes in Colorado):

Colorado Senate Friday April 9 floor debate and vote on SB21-188 on 2nd Reading

Chair: (00:00)
Please read the title to Senate Bill 188,

Clerk: (00:03)
188 by Senators, Danielson, and Representatives Duran and Ortiz concerning a lower voter with a disability who seeks to vote through an electronic voting device to return the ballot electronically.

Chair: (00:17)
Senator Danielson.

Senator Danielson: (00:19)
Thank you. Madam chair, I move Senate Bill 188 and the committee report

Chair: To the report.

Thank you, Madam chair. Um, we made a pretty simple change in the committee report. Or I’m sorry, in the, in the committee, um, to address, uh, a security concern from the Secretary of State. When I introduced the bill, we accidentally struck, um, existing statute that might’ve interfered with the Secretary of State’s ability to produce their, um, ballot on the back end, in order to, uh, ensure the security of the measure. So we put the language back in as needed and, um, addressed any security concerns that they had and moved on. And I ask and aye vote on the committee report.

Chair: (01:05)
Is there any discussion on the committee report? Seeing none the motion is the adoption of the State Veterans and Military Affairs committee report. All those in favor, say, aye, those opposed? No. The ayes have it. And the committee report is adopted to the bill.

Senator Danielson: (01:21)
Thank you, Madam chair. Thank you members. Um, today we’re talking about Senate bill 188 ballot access for voters with disabilities. You might recall that a couple of years ago, we passed a measure that was called voting rights for voters with disabilities, which allowed for voters with disabilities to go in and mark a ballot and then download and then download the ballot and print it off and send it back in. It was a big step forward for voters with disabilities and the Secretary of State started implementing it right away. So we’ve been able to use the new system for the last couple of elections. And as a result, we’ve figured out some flaws. And the biggest flaw is the part of the process where the voter has to print out their ballot. So the problem here is a lot of people with disabilities and quite frankly, a lot of us in general now don’t have printers at home and that could be because we can’t afford them.

They are not necessary for other activities or we’re becoming more and more digital. And so, you know, the devices just aren’t present in a lot of homes. And I would say particularly what we’re talking about, are voters with disabilities. So we’ve got a great idea, but in practice we still have a barrier for voters with disabilities to cast a private ballot. And that’s really the problem here. The choice would be to, uh, utilize the mail-in ballot system that we have. But if you are, for example, a blind voter, you don’t have the same right to a private ballot as a voter with sight because you still have to have somebody mark that ballot for you and then turn it in, et cetera. So we’ve got a great system that would allow someone to mark a private ballot for themselves, which is a right that I cherish deeply.

However, because of the barrier that we still have in place for that voter to own a printer, they’re still unable to vote a private ballot. So the way we can do this is not unlike the system that we currently use for military and overseas voters, as well as voting in some kind of a disaster, for example, a wildfire where now the voter can go in and mark their private ballot. They can also, in order to verify our ballots in the state of Colorado you either have to have a signature verification process, or if you present in person, you have to have a photo ID. So if the voter can produce an image of their, uh, valid, acceptable ID, along with their ballot, they can return the ballot without the obstacle of the printer. And it’s a simple change today that will allow a lot of voters with disabilities to participate in the system and mark for what will probably be the first time in many of their lives, an absolutely private ballot, which again, like I said before is a right that I certainly do not take for granted, but maybe, maybe some able-bodied people do and to have the government, you know, what we’ve got in Colorado is a safe and secure and accessible system.

And the technology is finally there to remove this barrier, to allow people with disabilities to vote a private ballot and honor our American tradition enriching our democracy. So I urge an aye vote on Senate Bill 188 to make sure that people with disabilities have the same voting rights as everybody else. Thank you.

Chair: (04:51)
Is there any further discussion? Seeing none the motion before the body is the adoption of Senate Bill 188. All those in favor, say aye. Aye. Those opposed, No. The ayes have it and the Bill is adopted.