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!:

Thursday November 18, 2004

More Information Surfaces on Cateret County problem

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 3:14 pm PST

More information on the early-voting tabulation problem in Cateret County, NC - using the Unilect Patriot voting system - has surfaced after some additional testing (“Warning light came on, state tests reveal”). You’ll recall that the central problem here was that the system continued to allow recording of votes after its memory was full which resulted in 4,438 out of 7,536 early ballots to be lost.

It turns out that the Patriot system’s central controller (it has a central controller and a group of daisy-chained voting terminals) displayed an error message, “Voter Log Full", until the controller was reset for the next voter. However, the display continued to increment the number of ballots cast. Poll workers are not experts so I’m sure that they took the incrementing of the number of ballots cast to be evidence that votes were still being recorded. Even technical experts would admit that a message like “Voter Log Full” doesn’t sound critical on its face; it sounds like some audit log that records when ballots are cast is full, not that the machine is no longer recording ballots.

This is a great illustration of the dangers with paperless DRE voting, or, at least, voting without robust auditability. If this had been an error with an optical scan system, there would still be paper records that could be recounted. What should have the Patriot system have done? It arguably should have not allowed a single voted to be cast once full, and should not have allowed poll workers to override the error message.

Friday November 12, 2004

Voting Problems in Indiana

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 7:19 pm PST

From a story in the National Journal’s House Race Hotline (“How Far Reaching Is This Fidlar Flop?”):

Election equipment counted straight party votes for [Democratic] candidates as Libertarian votes, in an error “that could affect election outcomes in as many” as 9 [counties]. [Democrats] discovered the error in Franklin Co. on 11/9 after noticing a final tally they couldn’t “decipher.” Fidlar, the [county’s] election equipment vendor, then notified election officials of the error on 11/10. The Franklin Co. Elections Board held an emergency meeting 11/11 and the ballots will be counted again 11/12. GOP Chair Bob Jewell: “Hopefully (the recanvassing) won’t change the outcome of the election.” Fidlar has machines in 9 [Indiana counites], including 2 in the 9th [congressional district] where Baron Hill [D] lost by fewer than 1.4K votes to Rep. Mike Sodrel [R]. Fidlar officials have said Franklin Co. “is the only county where a database error occurred” (Howey Political Report, 11/12). (emphasis and un-abbreviations added)

This is a big deal. Many people vote straight-party tickets, and every single one of those votes that were cast by Democrats in these counties will have to be accounted for. To boot, Fidlar has touchscreen machines in 4 counties in Iowa (Clay, Clayton, Plymouth, Union) and 4 counties in North Carolina (Alleghany, Bertie, Hertford, Surry). It’s hard to believe that their “database error” only occured in Indiana. Of course, we’ll need more information from these other counties and the vendor to determine if that is the case. Also note, I count 10 counties using Fidlar machines in Indiana (Elkhart, Franklin, Fulton, LaGrange, Newton, Ripley, Scott, Steuben, Switzerland, and White).

UPDATE: It appears that this problem might only affect counties that use optical scan systems provided by Fidlar (“Recount changes one Franklin Co. race”):

A Democrat gained enough votes to bump a Republican from victory in a county commissioner’s race after a recount prompted by a computer glitch in optical-scan voting.

The glitch in the Fidlar Election Co. vote-scanning system had recorded straight-Democratic Party votes for Libertarians.

Fidlar confirmed the error on Wednesday, a day after Democrats raised questions about preliminary results that included a Libertarian candidate for Congress winning 7.7 percent of the vote in Franklin County. That was more than four times the percentage of votes he had won across the entire district.

No programming problems were found in Fidlar’s optical scan Accuvote 2000 ES system, said Dana Pittman, an account manager for the Rock Island, Ill.-based company.

However, Fidlar also is verifying programming of its optical scan equipment in Wisconsin and Michigan, which, like Indiana, have straight-party voting, Vern Paddock of Fidlar technical support told the Palladium-Item of Richmond.

The Franklin County problem does not call into question any results in Wisconsin or Michigan, Bill Barrett, national sales manager for Fidlar, told The Associated Press today.

“That was an isolated incident in a single jurisdiction,” Barrett said in a telephone interview from Detroit.

Paddock, meanwhile, said programs for the Accuvote 2000 ES have been checked for all 10 Indiana counties that use the system.

So, how the heck do we have “glitches” without “programming problems” in this situation? What is going on here?

Tuesday November 09, 2004

Lack of Paper Trail Ruins North Carolina Election

Filed under: — Felten @ 4:05 pm PST

Just in case you thought that lawsuits about pregnant chads were the worst possible election outcome, here’s a story about the consequences of e-voting without a proper paper trail.

A bug in e-voting system software caused about 13% of the votes cast in Carteret County, North Carolina in last week’s election to be lost irretrievably, according to a story by Kelcy Carlson at WRAL.

The state Board of Elections discovered on election night that 4,532 electronic ballots through early voting were not recorded.

“The bottom line that we have heard from the manufacturer is that these votes are not missing. They’re lost,” county commissioner-elect Tom Steepy said. “It’s very disheartening. It really is.”

Carteret County had one stop for early voting. Twelve electronic booths fed into one electronic system that was expected to hold just over 10,000 votes. In reality, it only held just over 3,000. Officials said anyone who voted after 11 a.m. on Oct. 22 through Oct. 30 did not get their ballot counted.

“The company has admitted now that it was its error and that it was a simple keystroke that should have been applied to the system perhaps several years ago and was not,” said Ed Pond, of the Carteret County Board of Elections.

(See also the earlier USA Today story.)

Had these machines used a voter-verified paper ballot, the problem could have been rectified by counting the paper ballots. As it is, there is no backup to protect against software problems, so Carteret County voters will have to go to the polls again to vote in a new election.

Thursday November 04, 2004

Voting machine loses 4500 votes in NC

Filed under: — Wagner @ 6:35 pm PST

A DRE-based voting system lost 4500 votes in one North Carolina counting, because the storage unit did not have capacity to store all of the votes cast on the device. Those votes are irrecoverably lost.

This is intolerable. It is imperative that votes cast be stored in permanent form. No voting technology should allow a voter to cast a vote if it cannot ensure that there is sufficient capacity to store that vote permanently.

Apparently there was supposed to be a warning message that flashes when there is no more room for storing ballots. However, this is not adequate; we all know how easy it is to overlook warning messages. A voting machine should stop accepting votes when it is out of storage capacity.

This is a good argument for some kind of voter-verified audit trail. If the voter was enlisted to check that the vote has been recorded correctly on paper before they left the voting booth, then we wouldn’t have to worry about votes being lost like this – there would always be a permanent paper record that we could refer to in case of software failure.

The good news is that hopefully this kind of problem will be easy to fix. Technology trends are rapidly reducing the cost of storage. There will be a day when there is no excuse for running out of storage, because every machine can be shipped with far more storage than it is ever likely to need. Nonetheless, in the meantime, it is important that any machine as critical as a voting device handle “out of storage” and other unexpected error conditions gracefully.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/vote2004/2004-11-04-votes-lost_x.htm

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