E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

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.

2 Comments »

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  1. What should have the Patriot system have done?

    It shouldn’t have filled up in the first place. In this day and age, there is no reason for an electronic device to have such a limited capacity.

    But given that it did, you’re right. It should have displayed a full-screen “full” message and refused to accept any more voters.

    Comment by Mathwiz — Friday November 19, 2004 @ 6:19 pm PST

  2. A big problem in North Carolina is that Election Directors are in over their heads.

    Shouldn’t the Carteret County Election Director have made it a point to know the limitations of their voting systems?

    I can’t imagine such a lack of accountability all the way around.

    The Computer is excused, because oh well, it is just a computer. Glitch.

    The Election Director is excused because “they aren’t computer people".

    The Voting Machine company is excused because “they thought they told the county, or they didn’t think to tell them, or they should have reset a button".

    One reason electronic voting has been a train-wreck in North Carolina is because of the lack of accountability all the way around.

    Guilford County has the same lack of knowledge of its systems.
    Their director didn’t know the central tabulator was 16 bit technology, and therefore could not count past 32,767 votes!

    Then, it was ok, because the problem was not caused by a hacker.

    These machines are fraught with problems and limitations, yet our SBOE and County BOE directors (some of them) do not have a grasp on it.

    They failed to get any advice from computer scientists and security experts. FAILED.

    These people are in over their heads.

    No bank would operate this way, or they would be shut down.

    Comment by Joyce — Sunday November 21, 2004 @ 5:32 pm PST

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