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Just How Bad Can Software Screw Up An Election?

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 6/15/08

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Just How Bad Can You Screw Up An Election?

What just occurred during our recent primary election in Faulkner County, Arkansas involving two candidates running for a District 45 House of Representative race should disturb everyone who cares about their right to vote and Liberty. It seems that it's not about just your vote being cast, counted or recounted accurately. It's about your vote being cast in races you didn't plan for it to go into on electronic voting machines. So much for the intent of the voter and casting your vote for the candidate of your choice.

The reason? Software, well one of them anyway. Ineptitude another? Terry Fiddler ran against Linda Tyler for a position in the AR House of Representatives in the recent primary election. Fiddler was declared the winner, rejoiced overnight, then was declared the loser in yet another upset on Arkansas touch screen voting machines and their software. To compound this debacle, the election commissioner resigned after the recount. Faulkner County is election commissioner-less and facing a presidential election in November. Talk about left in a lurch.

Please keep in mind the story has changed, but I'll give it the old college try regarding the explanation:

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The former election commissioner stated in several interviews that the night before the election the county clerk noticed that the District 45 House race was not programmed on the personal electronic ballot (PEB) in the E. Cadron B precinct and that they printed paper ballots for that race only and allowed voters to vote on the touch screens for all other races. Voters were issued paper ballots for the House race in this one precinct.

The former election commissioner stated that they 'assumed' the District 45 House race would not be on the memory card, therefore, not recorded in the machine. The PEB and the memory cards are supposed to match. So, if a candidate or race is left off one device, it should not be showing up on another. However, he stated later that it 'apparently' DID record the race and was recorded in the audit logs of the machines. Officials determined the machines had taken votes cast in a DIFFERENT race - a Constable race - and placed those votes in the non-existent District 45 House race that wasn't supposed to be on the ballot. Confused? So are we.

If that's not enough, election officials 'discovered' three PEB's tossed into a bag and 'set aside' which contained votes on them that had not been added into the totals. Upon this 'discovery', Linda Tyler picked up a few more votes. Tyler then demanded a recount and said she wanted her lawyer there. They did the recount. The former election commissioner stated that upon 'closer examination' they had discovered the constable's race had too many votes in it, 57 to be exact. 51 of those votes were taken away from Fiddler. How did they know to take them away from Fiddler? Tyler lost 6 votes. And how did they know those 6 went to Tyler? Add, then subtract the votes on the 'set aside' PEBs and Tyler was declared the winner. At that point the spotlight was on, the former election commissioner had the vendor, ES&S, conduct an audit of what went wrong. Their findings: "human error'. You know, this time I think they may be right. A human somewhere programmed those PEBs & memory cards on those 2 touch screen machines. In fact, a human programs them all.

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A man who was a computer programmer said in a local meeting that what had been stated earlier by the former election commission did not actually happen, that he had been a poll worker and he said the problem occurred when they entered the vote totals on the election reporting software. That can happen and does with great frequency, ergo software. This person also denied the PEBs and memory cards didn't match, in fact he says they did. Well, if they matched up they wouldn't have needed to print paper ballots for the D45 race unless that race was missing off both devices. So, did they match up or not? Should it turn out he was correct, he must have been privy somehow to the programming of the devices. How does that happen? Poll worker friends of mine tell me they are not in the same room when they program their devices. I could have taken his version much more seriously had he come forward three weeks earlier when this actually occurred to tell it.

The AR Secretary of State's office confirmed that Faulkner County has the full software package to program their own personal electronic ballots and memory cards. Questions abound as to why then, upon that discovery the county clerk and election commissioner did not simply reprogram the PEB and memory cards with the D45 House race on them for the E. Cadron B precinct instead of printing the House race on a separate paper ballot adding further confusion in the mix for the poor voters.

Here's the deal. If you can't get it right, get out of the election business. If the machines and their software don't get it right then pitch them in the nearest body of water and be done with it. And if you're programming the devices for your guy to win, I hope you get a jail cell.

It's back to basics time and way past time to go back to hand counting paper ballots in our elections.

Lisa Burks
National Coalition for Verified Voting


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Lisa Burks is a member of the National Coalition for Verified Voting

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Just How Bad Can Software Screw Up An Election?