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Sci Tech    H3'ed 6/8/12

Who Needs a Democracy When You Have iVotronic Voting Machines?

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Message Chris Lamb

On June 8, 2010, Alvin Greene, who was unemployed and had no campaign staff, no headquarters, no website, and was facing charges for showing online pornography to a college student, soundly defeated an established politician, Vic Rawl, a former state legislator and judge, in the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary to oppose incumbent Republican Jim DeMint.


Greene's victory was bizarre-even by South Carolina standards. Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on the Comedy Channel, called the state "America's whoopee cushion."


To Frank Heindel, a Charleston commodities broker, the primary's results confirmed his suspicions about the credibility of electronic voting machines. The EVEREST report, a comprehensive study of Ohio's electronic voting technology, concluded that the iVotronic machines manufactured by Electronic Systems and Software were subject to unsafe storage of data, casting an unlimited number of votes, and "ghost voting," which allowed ballots to be cast without the presence of a voter." South Carolina uses iVotronic machines.


Heindel then read media reports that quoted Marilyn Bowers, Charleston County election commissioner, and Marci Andino, South Carolina election commission director, as saying that not one voting machine had malfunctioned in any of the state's 46 counties.


"This is where my b.s. meter went off," said Heindel, who is a Republican.


The EVEREST report had detailed how seasoned computer scientists using the iVotronic machines encountered significant problems.

"If the experts were unable to run our system in their academic surroundings, how could 46 county election directors manage to have no software problems in a real world election?" Heindel asked. "All the glowing statements from our election officials just seemed too good to be true.

Three days after the primary, Heindel sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the Charleston County and state election commissions seeking a list of malfunctions. In an email, Bowers rejected Heindel's request because she said the information belonged to Electronic Systems and Software.

Heindel was stunned because her response contradicted the state's constitution.

"Election law is very clear. Ballots are to be cast in private and counted in public. Without a paper ballot, it is impossible to be sure the machine accurately records the voter's intent," Heindel said. "The only way to count ballots in public with our system is to have the files available for public review. We should not trust our ballots to be secretly counted by a handful of unelected officials in a back room."

Gov. Mark Sanford's office ordered Bowers to comply with Heindel's request.  Heindel learned that Charleston County could not account for about 5,500 ballots.

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Chris Lamb is a professor of Communication at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, SC, he teaches courses in journalism and media studies. He has written hundreds of newspaper columns that have appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles (more...)
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