Democracy in Penticton is under threat, according to Kevin Proteau and some of his supporters.
The source of the threat, says Proteau, is the electronic tabulating machines the city has used to count votes since 1999.
Proteau, along with Vicki Lightfoot, appeared before council at their Oct. 6 regular meeting to express their concerns that use of the machines prevented proper scrutinizing of the vote count and was therefore unconstitutional.
They were back again at the Oct. 20 meeting to hold a protest outside before the results of a report by Dana Schmidt, the city’s chief elections officer, were received by council.
“Our constitution enshrines the right for citizens to observe the vote count at elections,” Lightfoot told council. Using electronic vote counting machines, she said make that impossible
“Historically that right to vote has been validated by scrutineers, who amongst other duties are assigned to observe the counting of the ballots,” said Lightfoot. “With the use of counting machines … our rights to have our votes counted are no longer guaranteed.”
“The electrical counting machines are dependent on software, which can be manipulated with a memory card,” said Lightfoot. “A simple switch of a memory card on the day the vote are counted can change the way the votes are counted.”
Lightfoot and Proteau refer to a decade-old video by a University of Princeton professor demonstrating hacking a similar machine as proof of how easily the vote could be hacked, and suggest it could be done remotely.
During the press conference, Lightfoot admitted that she had never been in touch with city staff to ask what security procedures were in place to prevent such a hack.
Schmidt said steps are taken throughout the process to prevent tampering with the machine and the memory cards, which are sent back to the city via a secure courier after being programmed by Elections Systems & Software, LLC. (ESS).
According to Schmidt’s report, the Accu-Vote OS machines used by Penticton are used in 46 other municipalities with technical support from ESS. More BC local governments may use these machines without the technical support of ESS. Once the cards are back in Penticton, Schmidt said, they are in the custody of the chief or deputy election officer until they are sealed into the counting machines on voting day. After that, an election official is with the machine at all times during polling. That would prevent the hack shown in the video Proteau and Lightfoot refer too. Nor, according to Schmidt, can the machine be tampered with remotely.
“The Accu-Vote OS is a stand-alone machine that is not network enabled, thereby not allowing for any hacking via the internet,” said Schmidt.
Using the machines saves the city both money and time, said Schmidt, especially considering the large number of candidates that will be on the Nov. 15 ballot.
“A hand count would go all night,” she said, adding that most election officials have worked a 12-hour day by the close of polls, making an inaccurate count likely.
Council showed little appetite for taking the matter further, and a suggestion from Coun. Judy Sentes that they recruit youth volunteers went undiscussed.
“I view this as a conspiracy theory and a mistrust of government,” said Coun. Andrew Jakubeit, who is running for mayor on Nov. 15.
Proteau was not pleased with the results and said he would be taking further action in addition to a complaint he already filed with the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
“You had a great suggestion there. But it sounds like a lot of hot air because nobody even talked to it, of getting students involved. You could have combined the youth and the old together to work together to have these manual vote counts,” Proteau told council, adding that he now planned to file a constitutional challenge through the B.C. Supreme Court.
“That could wind up costing the city upwards of $100,000 and all you had to do was involve the students and have a manual vote count to appease the people that are concerned,” he said.