Normally this space is taken with my ideas of what are the "Top 5" voting news stories for the week. Today I am going to use this space to talk about what I see as the beginning of a disaster in the making with our elections. This isn't the election fraud that some point to when they talk about the vendors and some elections officials. It's not about recounts or audits. This is a real, get your hands around it, happening problem that will disrupt our election process if we do not do something about it now. While we have been involved in all of our issues about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE or 'touch screen') voting machines or paper ballots the electronic voting machine vendors have been wreaking complete havoc across the country.
So far this year two states have conducted primary elections. In Texas there is at least one candidate who has stepped forward and has
challenged the election because of anomalies in vote counts and known voting machine failures. One county's machines counted some votes up to 6 times which resulted in approximately 100,000 more votes being counted than were cast. Though the vendor, Hart Intercivic, initially blamed the problem on human error, they finally had to admit that it was a programming error and not poll workers or voters who had erred. In Illinois some county officials are threatening to withhold final payment of funds on contracts with Sequoia Voting Systems because of failures with their machines that resulted in results in the primary not being known for over a week after the voters went to the polls. In both states the involved vendors were very successful in the media with deflecting the blame from their machines to "human errors" or "glitches". However, when you listen to people who were there and who saw and worked through the problems you get a different picture.
As these primaries were being conducted Summit County Ohio announced that over 70% of the memory cards for their precinct based optical-scan machines would not work. The vendor, ES&S, announced that their memory card contractor had made mistakes on some cards and they would be replaced. Memory cards for electronic voting machines store vote tabulations amongst other things.
Apparently ES&S does not consider 'Quality Control' to be a worthwhile corporate value because they never checked those cards. They replaced the bad cards and 20% of those cards failed. Now, this week, the newest batch of cards were delivered after being tested twice by ES&S. They were tested by the county who found that 4% of those cards failed. In the meantime all 1000 memory cards delivered to the state of North Carolina were replaced because of a large percentage of failures. There is no report, yet, of how many of the 1000 memory cards are bad and will need replacement except that local counties still have not received their cards.
Meanwhile early voting began in Indiana and Nebraska. 69 of the 93 counties in
Nebraska have no paper ballots from their vendor, ES&S, and no ballot programming for their voting machines. 11 counties in Indiana have the same problems and they are threatening lawsuits. Prebel County Ohio reported they had not gotten their paper ballots. On March 29 the Texas Secretary of State sent an urgent memorandum to all county clerks, elections administrators and county chairs noting that many officials had not received electronic programming or paper ballots for primary runoff elections to be held on April 11.
"We recognize that this kind of service from our certified voting systems vendors is completely unacceptable and disturbing," the memo states. "We will be pursuing all appropriate remedies from a state level that are available to us."
In Pennsylvania ES&S has become the main provider of voting systems and they are not able to deliver all machines that they are contracted to deliver to the counties in time for the primary. They are asking counties to accept a small percentage of the machines they need to conduct elections. In some instances counties may be left with fewer machines than they need to satisfy the accessibility mandates of HAVA and they will have to find another means of meeting that requirement.
Why don't the states or counties speak out? Just this week Marion County Indiana
held a county council meeting and demanded that the local ES&S representative attend. Marion County's ballots for a school board position were received with no instructions printed for the voters. Instead ES&S sent an attorney with orders not to say anything except that the representative was involved in a conference call that began 15 minutes before the council meeting and that he would not be able to attend.
Johnson County Clerk, Jill Jackson had this to say about their experience with ES&S:
"I guess what bothered us the most is that it's like it's no big deal that they missed a statutory deadline," Jackson said of ES&S. "They're a big company and it's like they don't care, that they'll get (the ballots) to us when they get them done, and that's not acceptable. I'm extremely disappointed in the vendor."
What is reported above is only what has been in the media. We now have reports from Nevada County, California that ES&S has missed its deadline for delivery of paper ballots to the county. They were due to be delivered on April 6. On April 7 the county registrar received Democratic ballots only and those were filled with errors and will need to be returned to ES&S. The county also has not had their ballot programming done, as promised.
In Wake County, North Carolina they have 218, just tested, ES&S M-100 precinct based optical-scan machines. ES&S acceptance tested the 218 machines to their standards and failed 11 of those machines. The remaining 207 machines were delivered to a county contractor, InfoSentry, who tested those machines and failed 5. ES&S then delivered 11 machines to replace the machines they had failed and InfoSentry failed 2 of those. This represents a 7.8% failure rate or 18 failures out of 229 machines received. Where is the quality control?
Why is this happening? It is very apparent that some of the voting machine vendors over-extended their ability to meet their contracts for machines and for ancillary services like paper ballot printing. These companies saw an opportunity to make a lot of money at the expense of the tax payers and they saw a deadline of 1 January 2006 that fit right in with their plans to get as much money as possible this year. The vendors are raking in the money through deceptive practices and shoddy workmanship.
Dennis Vadura is the former CEO of AccuPoll, a voting machine vendor that has filed for bankruptcy. He has this to say about the industry (emphasis added):
"I am not happy about the outcome, or the state of the industry. I think that something needs to be done. I'm not sure what it is, it probably doesn't include AccuPoll at this point, but I do not feel that any of the vendors has a system that voters can trust. I think that vendors outright misrepresent the robustness, stability, and security of their systems. You just have to look at the litany of problems and it points at one thing, bad fundamental design, and not enough checks and balances. I also wonder why the other vendors were so adamant in fighting a VVPAT [voter verified paper audit trail] system requirement. They spent much more in fighting it than in implementing it."
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