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General News    H3'ed 7/11/08

NYSTEC Finds NY SBOE Voting Machine Tests 'Quite Good'

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NYSTEC Review of NY SBOE Certification Testing Finds Poor Training, Lack of Communication to Blame for Machine Failures. Counties Balk at "CYA" Report.


After receiving several complaints that state-certified voting devices failed in local testing, the New York State Board of Elections (SBOE) ordered an independent audit of its acceptance testing process.  The New York State Technology Enterprise Corporation (NYSTEC) also evaluated "whether the testing process provides an adequate evaluation of the condition of electronic voting systems."  NYSTEC's main findings center on two factors:  better vendor training of county employees; and increased communication by vendors and the SBOE with counties. 

Nassau County purchased 450 ballot marking devices (BMDs) from Sequoia, at a cost of $12,000 each.  It reported that 85% of 240 machines were non-functional, one fifth of them damaged during shipment.  New York City also experienced software failure, when it tested ES&S AutoMARK's BMD, as attested at the June 23rd NYC Government Services Committee, reported Nassau County Attorney Lori Barrett.   

Ballot marking devices allow disabled voters to vote independently, printing the ballot for them, and would fulfill NY's compliance with the Help America Vote Act.  Yet a substantial portion of BMDs received in Nassau registered a printer failure.

NYSTEC is a private, not-for-profit firm that provides systems engineering and technical assistance in "acquiring, implementing and securing technology systems," according to its website.  After a one-day review on July 8th, NYSTEC concluded on July 10th: 

"[T]he policies and procedures used for acceptance testing of the BMD's are quite good and are being followed diligently.  There are many checks and balances in place that would make it very hard for a machine to pass acceptance testing and arrive at a county with the number of issues that were noted by Nassau.  That being said, we did find a few things outside of the actual process of acceptance testing that are areas in need of improvement.

"The main concern is a lack of communication and coordination with the counties by both the voting system vendors and SBOE.  On the vendor side, each vendor should make sure that each county board is adequately trained on the use of their system prior to any delivery of their equipment....  SBOE also has room for improvement in communicating with the counties.... 

"It is recommended that any tips discovered during [centralized] acceptance testing be quickly passed on to the counties so they can take save time and effort by taking advantage of lessons learned." 

Inadequate training and poor communication cannot fully explain the situation in Nassau, since officials successfully operated 22 of the 240 machines it received from the State.  NYSTEC's report also failed to mention Sequoia's admission of "systemic failure" in the design of these BMDs.

When asked about the NYSTEC findings, Nassau County Commissioner Bill Biamonte said, "This report is CYA." 

July 9th Testing at Nassau County

Yesterday, representatives from the SBOE, Sequoia and the Department of Justice met in Nassau County to test 25 of the machines that failed local testing.  We would expect Sequoia fully understands its machines, yet discovered non-resolvable problems with six of them, shipping them back to the plant.    

Biamonte pointed out, "These are all tech-related issues with the equipment."  Nassau knows how to follow instructions, the BMDs simply don't work.  "If this was an issue of properly training the counties, then why did Sequoia just now assign a full time technician to Nassau County to stay with us through the election?" 

The primary is scheduled for September 9th, less than sixty days from now.

The SYSTEC report also failed to mention that Nassau was advised that the BMD's "internal diagnostics testing was turned off, to accommodate a USB cable failure," said Biamonte.  This explains why some of the machines reported printer failure.  BMDs were created to print ballots for disabled voters.  Biamonte asks: 

"How do we know, then, that the printer works if the diagnostics is turned off?  If you pay for something that has a diagnostics feature, you expect to get that feature.  It's like buying a car where the gauges don't work.  So you learn you're out of oil on the highway when the engine seizes."

Biamonte also reported that when the same machine was tested more than once, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. "These machines are skittish!"

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In 2004, Rady Ananda joined the growing community of citizen journalists. Initially focused on elections, she investigated the 2004 Ohio election, organizing, training and leading several forays into counties to photograph the 2004 ballots. She officially served at three recounts, including the 2004 recount. She also organized and led the team that audited Franklin County Ohio's 2006 election, proving the number of voter signatures did not match official results. Her work appears in three books.

Her blogs also address religious, gender, sexual and racial equality, as well as environmental issues; and are sprinkled with book and film reviews on various topics. She spent most of her working life as a researcher or investigator for private lawyers, and five years as an editor.

She graduated from The Ohio State University's School of Agriculture in December 2003 with a B.S. in Natural Resources.

All material offered here is the property of Rady Ananda, copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. Permission is granted to repost, with proper attribution including the original link.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Tell the truth anyway.

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