E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Sunday December 12, 2004

More e-voting problems

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 12:00 pm PST

(I am just going to update this post as I hear of more problems as they are reported in the press…)

These are courtesy of VotersUnite!:

Friday November 19, 2004

New Study of E-Voting Effects in Florida

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:09 am PST

Yesterday, a team of social scientists from UC Berkeley released a study of the effect of e-voting on county-by-county vote totals in Florida and Ohio in the recent election. It’s the first study to use proper social-science modeling methods to evaluate the effect of e-voting.

The study found counties with e-voting tended to tilt toward Bush, even after controlling for differences between counties including past voting history, income, percentage of Hispanic voters, voter turnout, and county size. The researchers estimate that e-voting caused a swing in favor of Bush of up to 260,000 votes in Florida. (A change of that many votes would not be enough to change the election’s result; Bush won Florida by about 350,000 votes.)

No e-voting effect was found in Ohio.

The study looks plausible, but I don’t have the expertise to do a really careful critique. Readers who do are invited to critique the study in the comments section.

Regardless of whether it is ultimately found credible, this study is an important step forward in the discourse about this topic. Previous analyses had shown differences, but had not controlled for the past political preferences of individual counties. Skeptics had claimed that “Dixiecrat” counties, in which many voters were registered as Democrats but habitually voted Republican, could explain the discrepancies. This study shows, at least, that the simple Dixiecrat theory is not enough to refute the claim that e-voting changed the results.

Assuming that the study’s authors did their arithmetic right, there are two possibilities. It could be that some other factor, beyond the ones that the study controlled for, can explain the discrepancies. If this is the case, we can assume somebody will show up with another study demonstrating that.

Or it could be that e-voting really did affect the result. If so, there are several ways this could have happened. One possibility is that the machines were maliciously programmed or otherwise compromised; I think this is unlikely but unfortunately the machines are designed in a way that makes this very hard to check. Or perhaps the machines made errors that tended to flip some votes from one candidate to the other. Even random errors of this sort would tend to affect the overall results, if e-voting counties different demographically from other counties (which is apparently the case in Florida). Another possibility is that e-voting affects voter behavior somehow, perhaps affecting different groups of voters differently. Maybe e-voting scares away some voters, or makes people wait longer to vote. Maybe the different user interface on e-voting systems makes straight party-line voting more likely or less likely.

This looks like the beginning of a long debate.

Thursday November 04, 2004

Analysis of e-voting vs. optical scan in Florida

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 4:17 pm PST

Charlie Strauss of Verified Voting New Mexico has has analyzed data from Florida (provided by Kathy Dopp from FL officials). Some interesting trends seem to appear… I’m not sure I fully understand this yet. Maybe someone with more time on their hands can examine this critically and post comments.:

TREND 1: optical scan shows much less predictable voting trends than e-voting

  1. Both parties show greater party defection on optical scan than e-voting
  2. Of the two democrats show slightly more of this discrepancy
  3. The large discrepancies from the trend line hurt Democrats just slightly more often than Republicans but this may not be statistically significant.

TREND 2: The smaller the precinct the greater the party defection

  1. There is very strong effect of the smaller the precinct the more voters crossing over to Republican. This vanishes in large precincts.
  2. [In] every case the trend favored the Republican party.

Wednesday November 03, 2004

Tabulation Problem in Collier County, Florida

Filed under: — Felten @ 9:03 am PST

Some kind of problem with the tabulation of results from iVotronic e-voting systems delayed the tabulation of votes in Collier County, Florida, according to a Naples Daily News story by Ray Parker.

[A Collier County election official] explained that all 96 Collier voting precincts had sent in the day’s results, but during the tabulation process, there was a problem because “the file refreshes to zero and it did not refresh.”

At 8 p.m., he had the problem file analyzed by technicians at ES&S, the Omaha, Neb.-based company that the county paid $4.3 million for the equipment.

And a little more than two hours later, Collier officials were able to tabulate the 127,409 votes, or 75 percent of registered voters.

The official’s explanation of the problem is hard to interpret without more information, so it’s not clear what exactly went wrong.

AP Story on Voting-Machine Problems

Filed under: — Felten @ 6:49 am PST

AP reports on voters around the country noting e-voting problems and failures.

One focus of the article is the disturbing set of reports from several states about voters selecting one candidate on a touchscreen system and having another candidate show up in the review screen later. There were many reports of this happening.

Most of the reports of this problem came from Kerry voters; probably this is because Democratic voters were more aware of the incident reporting projects and so were more likely to report the problems they had.

Alfie Charles, a spokesman for one e-voting vendor, Sequoia, blames the voters, saying that they just pushed the wrong spot on the screen. This is a bit hard to square with reports that some voters tried over and over to register their vote for their candidate.

Charles did briefly mention that poll workers are supposed to recalibrate touchscreens if they are misbehaving. But he stopped short of actually admitting that any screens were miscalibrated.

Tuesday November 02, 2004

Machines Not Plugged In, 40 Votes Lost in Florida

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:46 pm PST

A group of nine voting machines ran out of power because they weren’t plugged in, causing about forty votes to be lost at polling place in Palm Beach County, according to an AP story. The machines operated on battery power for a while, but apparently lost their data when the batteries ran out around 9:30 AM.

Optical-Scan Glitch in Florida

Filed under: — Felten @ 6:44 am PST

Florida TV station Local6 reports that about 13,000 paper ballots were miscounted when a memory card failed in an optical scanner.

In optical scan systems, voters mark their votes on paper, and the paper ballots are counted by a machine. Because the system uses paper ballots, this type of failure can be fixed by recounting the paper ballots, using another machine or by hand. Local6 reports that the paper ballots have been impounded and election authorities will decide how to recount them.

(link via EFF DeepLinks)

Monday November 01, 2004

Designing for DoS in Elections

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 5:53 pm PST

Along with all the benefits of using networked technology in election administration and politics, come all the bugaboos.

Specifically, we’ve seen intentional and unintentional denial-of-service (DoS). At the time of this writing, the wonderful mypollingplace.com has been brought to its knees by the heightened attention of voters trying to find their polling place (no word on the possibility that this is malicious). We’ve also seen DoS problems in Georgia, , Tennessee, Florida and Texas with the failure of electronic “poll books” in polling places connected with central registration databases. (Note: Here is a complete list of poll-book problems courtesy of VotersUnite! and their database of problems reported in the news for this election.)

In fact, the gracious Rob Malda allowed the VVF/EFF folks to plant a story on Slashdot in order to test the resiliency of a few critical web services and contingency plans that will be used by the massive Election Protection Coalition in tomorrow’s election. You might think that all of this is a tad paranoid, but there’s current litigation in New Hampshire involving a plot in the November 2002 election where one partisan group hired a telemarketing firm to keep the voter protection hotline of another group busy for most of E-Day.

Saturday October 30, 2004

Rundown of E-voting Problems So Far

Filed under: — Felten @ 9:39 pm PDT

Donna Wentworth at EFF Deep Links has an interesting rundown on the E-voting problems that have been seen so far, in early voting, and what they teach us.

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