May 18, 2012 New paper ballot optical-scan computer tabulator systems used to tally millions of votes in New York as well as "swing states" such as Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin do not tally votes correctly. That stunning admission comes courtesy of a new report released by the private company which manufactures, sells, services and programs the systems which are now believed to have mistallied tens of thousands of ballots in New York in 2010.
The votes of more than ten million voters could be affected by a newly revealed failure in the voting systems set for use in those four states in this year's Presidential election, and in more than 50 different jurisdictions in Wisconsin during next month's historic recall elections.
Election Systems & Software, Inc. (ES&S), the largest e-voting machine company in the U.S. and the maker of the paper ballot optical-scan tally systems in question, have confirmed that their systems may overheat when used over several hours (for example, during an election!), and that they then may mistally and/or incorrectly discard anywhere from 30% to 70% of votes scanned by the machines.
The only way to know that a hand-marked paper ballot had been mistallied by the system would be to examine the ballots by hand to assure that the computer had read and recorded the voters' selections correctly.
The New York Daily News editorial board which has been persistently forcing the issue on state Election Officials who initially ignored massive mistallies discovered in the South Bronx during the state's 2010 election reports on ES&S' confirmation of the latest failure in a story headlined We told you so: Newfangled voting machine screwed up. Their article today begins this way...
Earlier this year, the newspaper discovered through public records requests for the paper ballots in a single precinct in the South Bronx that the ES&S model DS200 optical-scan system had failed to count some 70% of paper ballots correctly in the 2010 primary election. In that November's general election, some 54% of the ballots were mistallied at the same precinct.
The result, as confirmed by ES&S, tens of thousands of perfectly valid votes may have gone uncounted, while thousands of "phantom votes" in races that voters hadn't intended to vote in at all were counted as valid votes.
All of the above likely sounds very familiar to long-time readers of The BRAD BLOG, where we are considering changing the name of our news site to We Told You So: Newfangled Voting Machines Screw Up, as a tip of the hat to the NY Daily News, and to better reflect a great deal of our nearly 10 years worth of content here.
Unfortunately, the latest example of secret vote-tallying computers made by private companies failing to accurate tally our once-public elections, is not only affecting New York. Moreover, the failure isn't isolated to the ES&S model DS200 paper ballot optical-scan system. As we've reported here for years, and on a number of recent occasions over just the past few months, similar failures have been discovered in other states and on other similarly designed paper ballot optical-scan systems.
New York's public radio station, WNYC has also been reporting the problem discovered in the Empire State. They describe, (rather conservatively, based on the numbers reported via the Daily News' study of actual ballots in the South Bronx) that "overheating" of the optical-scan computers "may have caused upwards of 30 percent of the votes in a South Bronx voting precinct to go uncounted."
ES&S has now confirmed that the failure occurred, and has been able to replicate the "overheating" problem when the systems have been on for several hours in a row. According to the company's report, "After lunch almost every ballot was read incorrectly, in all orientations, even ballots that had read correctly just before lunch."
The "overheating" failure led to thousands of properly cast votes being tallied as "overvotes". An overvote occurs when a voter selects more than one candidate in a particular race, where only a single candidate can be selected. If more than one candidate is chosen in such races, the vote is ignored entirely as "invalid."
In the case of the overheating ES&S DS200 machines, non-existent "phantom" votes (or more than one "phantom" vote) were added by the optical scanner to races on the ballot, resulting in the initial correct vote being disregarded as "invalid." In other cases, where a voter had chosen to not vote in a particular race on purpose, the machine added a phantom selection, and then tallied it as if the voter had voted in that race after all.
So, for example, in New York's 2010 election, if a voter had properly voted for Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the gubernatorial contest, the machine might have seen another non-existent, or "phantom" mark for Republican Carl Palladino on that ballot in the same race. If so, it would have been seen as an overvote, and neither selection would be tallied. The voter would have been disenfranchised and never even knew it.
In other cases, a voter might have chosen to vote for nobody at all in that race, but the DS200 added a vote for Palladino or Cuomo or one of the other five long-shot candidates in the contest and then counted the vote as valid in a race the voter had specifically chosen not to vote in.
Again, these failures would only be discovered by a hand-count of the paper ballots otherwise tallied by the machines. In this case, it was nearly two years following the 2010 election, after a public records request to hand-count the paper ballots, before the tens of thousands of incorrectly tallied votes came to light.
The failure had not been discovered during pre-election testing of the new optical-scan computers in New York City, because the machines, reportedly, had not yet heated up enough to lead to the failure.
The state Board of Elections then stepped in to investigate. Technicians calibrated the machine and ran ballots through. The device did fine. But later on, after a few hours had passed, it began to fail with an error rate of close to 100%.
ES&S then ran its own tests and concluded that if a machine is not cleaned correctly, it will lose its calibration once the device warms up to working temperature. Test it while cool, and the count will be perfect; test it warm, and the count will be nonsense."
That ES&S suggests the problem is related to a system "not cleaned correctly," seems to strain credulity. New York was the last state in the union to "upgrade" to electronic voting systems in 2010 in response to the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. They had just started using their new optical-scan systems for the first time in 2010, when they failed.
The massive failure is not the only one to affect the company's DS200 paper ballot optical-scanners, even though the systems are currently set for use this November (and on June 5 th in Wisconsin's recall elections), by more than 12 million registered voters, according to VerifiedVoting.org's database.
Over 4 million registered voters in Florida, more than 6.5 million in New York, over 1 million in Ohio, and voters in more than 50 Wisconsin municipalities (Verified Voting's database does not include registered voter numbers for Wisconsin) are set to have their votes tallied accurately or otherwise by the failed ES&S DS200 this year.
As we reported last December, in a first-of-its-kind report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency tasked with certification testing for electronic voting systems at the federal level issued a warning that the DS200 may freeze up during elections; fail to log system events correctly; and either misread ballots or lose votes entirely.
It was the first time that the EAC the wholly compromised and frequently-failed federal agency formed by 2002's HAVA bothered to issue a Formal Investigation Report for any system that it had previously certified for federal use. Naturally, they stopped short of decertifying the systems, as the agency has largely become a tool of the e-voting industry.
The EAC's investigation came about after yet another newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer in that case, reported that some 10% of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)'s ES&S precinct based optical-scan systems had failed during pre-election tests in 2010.
The failed (but, at the time, new) paper ballot optical-scan systems had been purchased as a replacement for the 100% unverifiable Diebold touch-screen systems used previously in Ohio's largest county, after a massive analysis of all of the state's e-voting systems, overseen by former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (D), revealed serious security issues and other major flaws in the touch-screen voting machines used there and in many other states.
In USA Today's report on the EAC's confirmation of DS200 failures last December, the paper quoted Cleveland-Marshall College of Law professor and e-voting expert Candice Hoke explaining her concerns about the disturbing system logging failures.
As DeForest Soaries, the George W. Bush-appointed first chair of the U.S. EAC said when he resigned in 2005 after determining that White House and Congressional efforts to reform elections in the wake of the 2000 Presidential debacle were "a charade" and "a travesty," the electoral system in use in this nation is "ripe for stealing elections and for fraud."
Back in 2008, for example, The BRAD BLOG wrote about the M-100s when Oakland County, Michigan, was trying to get help from the EAC concerning that particular precinct-based optical scanner after pre-election testing had "yielded different results each time" the "same ballots were run through the same machines."
According to the letter [PDF] sent to the EAC by Oakland County election officials at the time...
"The issue is this four of our communities or eight percent reported inconsistent vote totals during their logic and accuracy testing with the ES&S machines. The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results each time.
Unfortunately, [local clerks] are prohibited from performing any maintenance/cleaning on the machines as it voids the warranties. ES&S has not performed any preventative maintenance under the state contract, since the machines were delivered three years ago."
The ES&S M-100s, according to VerifiedVoting.org, are set for use this year by more than 31 million registered voters in more than 700 counties in 32 different states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.
After the discovery in 2008 that Diebold's optical-scan machines, like ES&S', were failing to tally ballots properly they were found to have actually been dropping entire decks of ballots fed into the machines without notice to the system operator an investigation by California Sec. of State Debra Bowen (D) led to the admission by Diebold that their systems also failed to log events properly, allowing activity log files to be deleted entirely, without a trace of the system manipulation being left behind. That disastrous failure was found to have affected all of Diebold's voting systems, both touch-screen and optical-scan.
Many of those flawed systems, with gaping security holes, are still in use today. Diebold-manufactured electronic voting and tabulation systems are used in almost 1,500 voting jurisdictions in dozens of states by almost 50 million registered voters.
And, while many voters believe a paper ballot is all they need to assure that results will be accurately tabulated and reported versus touch-screen systems which are, indeed, 100% unverifiable they couldn't be more wrong. Need further proof? Keep in mind what happened earlier this year in Palm Beach County, FL.
As we initially reported in March, paper ballot optical-scan systems made by Sequoia Voting Systems produced inaccurate results in a number of races during a municipal election there.
Fortunately, the failure was noticed by the local Supervisor of Elections when a state-mandated post-election spot-check of 2% of the paper ballots (which is not done at all in many states) revealed that the races had been reported inaccurately by the Sequoia central tabulator system known as WinEDS.
A subsequent 100% hand-count of paper ballots was needed to accurately determine the actual winning candidates in those contests.
Dominion Voting, which now sells, services and programs Sequoia Voting Systems e-voting computers, admitted that the programming flaw that caused the mistallied races exists in every version of their WinEDS software, though the company's President subsequently attempted to tell a differing story to state officials.
The Sequoia WinEDS system is currently in use in 285 jurisdictions in 17 states, where it's set to tally the votes either accurately or inaccurately for some 25 million registered voters this year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
After the Sequoia system failures came to light in Palm Beach County along with Dominion/Sequoia's attempts at covering them up Susan Bucher, their Supervisor of Elections, told The BRAD BLOG that she'd be delighted to switch to a different system made by a different manufacturer, "but they all have similar problems, as I've come to understand it."
All computer voting systems have similar flaws that are often only revealed, if ever, via a hand-count of paper ballots. Unfortunately, very few jurisdictions in the U.S. are smart enough (and respectful of their voters enough) to count any of their ballots by hand at all.
If that's how the U.S. counted votes in the first place publicly hand-counting hand-marked paper ballots on Election Night, at the precinct, with results reported then and there, before ballots are moved anywhere, as per Democracy's Gold Standard confidence in reported election results might not continue to wane as it has over recent years. And, perhaps, in the bargain, the U.S. might one day become the "world's greatest democracy" as it has long pretended to be.
One would have to believe in the tooth fairy to think that the November 2012 election will be both honest and accurately tallied by today's electronic voting machines. In a 2004 Vanity Fair article Prof. Doug Jones pointed out that:
"If I were a crook intent on stealing an election, I wouldn't steal it using technology which was still controversial. And I wouldn't be interested in a technology being used by only 5 percent of the voters. I would wait until that technology was being used by 65 to 80 percent of the voters and was no longer controversial, until it was so entrenched that voters felt they had no choice. That's when I'd go in and steal an election."
Thus, there is a high probability that the fall elections will be determined by the party with the largest budget and the best hackers money can buy, or China, or a combination (one might speculate that Obama and China could work together).
However, when committing election fraud it is best to keep the "swing" to less than 10% or it becomes too obvious and is too likely to be discovered. From Brad Friedman's article above, and many other sources, it is quite apparent that the mistally of votes by electronic voting machines could well exceed 10% of the ballots counted. Thus, a second strong possibility is that machine errors will determine the election outcomes.
But in Colorado county clerks have been battling to prevent citizens from even seeing the paper ballots once they are "counted" by the voting machines and making it virtually impossible for citizens to oversee elections, e.g., poll watchers, video recordings, access to machine audit logs, etc. Fortunately, election activist Marilyn Marks has had the time and resources to bring lawsuits against a number of Colorado county clerks to ensure access to the ballots and election records. To the horror and dismay of city and county clerks, who think they are gifted from on high to dictate elections, she has consistently won these suits, and one corrupt county clerk was even turned out of office.
Afraid that the Colorado Supreme Court might not rule in their favor, and frightened that they might actually be held accountable for their actions, the county clerks association made a mad dash to the legislature this spring and pushed through a bill to greatly limit citizen access to the actual ballots cast in an election. Led by Donetta Davidson, who left the position of Arapahoe County Clerk to become Colorado Secretary of State, which she left to join the federal Election Assistance Commission, which she left to become executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, and in which positions she has been an unmitigated disaster for elections, the election censorship bill began as Senate Bill 155 but at the last moment was amended into House Bill 1036 and hurriedly passed in the closing days of the session. A growing coalition of groups, including the Denver Post, is now left with the desperate rearguard action of asking the governor to veto the bill. If signed into law it will create an unprecedented exemption from the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) that limits probably the most basic need of citizens to verify election results by examining the actual ballots rather than "trusting" electronic voting machines and county clerks, who rarely have the computer skills of a fifth-grader.
Davidson foolishly claims that "...current election law allows for transparency through poll watchers, election judges and other participants in the process." With roughly 60% of all ballots now being cast by mail ballots and counted in a back room by the fallible optical scanners described above, one wonders if this woman and our county clerks are in touch with reality and living on the same planet as the rest of us.
With election officials like Davidson it is little wonder that citizen trust in elections and politicians is at record lows. Let us at least hope that Colorado Governor Hickenlooper has the fortitude and intelligence to veto HB12-1036. But that is unlikely to save the virtually certain chaos of the November 2012 elections resulting from hackers and totally unreliable vote counting machines.
Black Box Voting.org Bev Harris and her group have long documented the corruption, incompetence, and failures of electronic voting machines and the election officials who buy and use them.
Prof. Doug Jones On voting and elections. One of the foremost authorities on elections.