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3rd bug found in Pierce County Instant Runoff Voting System

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Pierce County Washington is up to "software bug number 3" in their new Instant Runoff Voting system.

We blogged earlier this year about two other major software bugs in Pierce County's IRV voting system, first in June and then in September of 2008. Now there is a report of a third software bug in Pierce County's instant runoff voting software. This time it is a capacity issue - the software can't handle more than 200,000 votes at a time. This is a real problem since with IRV you end up with often 3 times as many votes as usual, capacity is a very real issue. These flaws may also affect San Francisco's IRV voting systems, as they also use the Sequoia Insight Optical scanners with WinEDS tabulating software. And San Francisco has around 430,000 registered voters.

Once you legislate IRV, you are backed into a corner. Politicians and the media press hard for "instant results" that can't be provided for weeks, not even with voting machines. 

When a jurisdiction adopts "instant runoff voting" they find out that it is too laborious and complicated to count by hand.  That leaves them searching for voting machines that can do the job. Right now, there are no voting systems in the US that are federally certified to count IRV. Earlier this year, Pierce County officials requested emergency certification of IRV software that had bugs in it because "they tried hand-counting just 14 RCV ballots with seven ranked contests and found that it was "horrendous." Using software to tally this sort of balloting was absolutely essential." Ironically, it took Pierce County Washington and San Francisco California several weeks to count their "instant runoffs". 

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Here is communication from an office of the Washington Secretary of State's office regarding the problem:

Bug number 3: From John Gideon on November 10, 2008

"For those of you who are in states that use Sequoia and that may, in the future, be using WinEDS 4.0 here is some information from WA state where that version was used to support IRV in Pierce Co, WA. This is a string of emails between Ellen and a member of the SOS voting systems staff:"

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F.Y.I. – Sequoia has updated their documentation regarding the issue Pierce County ran into on Election Night -

Section 7.2.2 now contains the following recommendation:

Note: Excessively large 400-C batch loads may impede tally performance on election night. In extreme cases, the SQL memory, which is utilized for processing the tally, may be exceeded. In this situation, the following error message will display:

Tally process terminated early because of a trappable error.

If you receive this error, reduce the 400-C results batch size and re-import the results. Many factors, including the complexity of the election definition, can influence the allowable batch size that may be loaded. To ensure successful election night operations, Sequoia Voting Systems recommends loading 400-C results in batches not to exceed 25,000 ballots.

I have added this note to my certification folder so that we can make sure it is highlighted when we certify the WinEDS 4.0 system.

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Patty Murphy Voting Systems Support

Office of the Secretary of State

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Editor of the Voting News. The Voting News is a free national newsletter about election integrity issues, voting machines, election fraud, voter access and legislation in United States and international news.

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