Very early research reveals that chronic problems continue with Diebold's AccuVote Optical Scan voting machines in New Hampshire. I made six calls to New Hampshire town officials and in four instances there were reports of voting machine problems. The two other calls turned out to have been to areas where electronic voting is not in use and hand counts were done. A state wide study would likely reveal that the voting machines failed many times during the 2008 presidential Primary.
The vendor, LHS Associates of Methuen MA, is relied on heavily by town officials in New Hampshire. Town officials trust them and their representatives tend to step in to make voting machine problems disappear during elections. They are like copy machine repair staff in a frantic law office. Little would move without them.
If a statewide recount of New Hampshire scheduled January 16th goes ahead as planned any irregularities found could be cross referenced to towns where machines failed. However, first voting machine failures would have to be compiled. Such data combined with a top down investigation into the performance of all electronic voting machines in general could make the 2008 Presidential Election far more secure.
Of interest would be the number of times the voting machines were repaired, replaced, or in any way handled by town officials or LHS Associates of Methuen MA. Last minute repairs made to voting machines in advance of elections or mid election repairs are prime times for vulnerability to fraud.
Officials I spoke with were unclear that LHS was working under strict written security protocols other than those the clerks and other officials would have about set up and handling. That would include the fact that town officials would hold the keys, open machines for LHS staff members when they arrive to make repairs, and break the seals.
Computer scientists we spoke with in Connecticut such as Professor Michael Fischer of Yale University's Computer Science Department and Professor Alex Shvartsman of the University of Connecticut's Voting Research Team, recommend tight written legal protections governing the way voting machine failures are handled. Connecticut officials continue to work on problems that have arisen since they purchased the AccuVote Optical Scan machines in 2006.
My interviews with New Hampshire officials revealed a consistent lack of concern about security protocols that would restrict a vendor from coming in to replace parts or repair machines during all phases of elections. When I asked Rochester Clerk of the Election Cheryl Eisenberg to go over the voting machine security protocols that would apply to LHS staffers she said, "I don't think there is anything in writing as to how the situation would be handled. We rely on them, we trust them". Her remark typifies the way Town Clerks described their relationship with LHS during initial interviews.
The first six calls made revealed problems in four New Hampshire towns, Hanover, Exeter, Nashua and Manchester. The two other towns I phoned that day, Springfield and Bradford, were not using electronic voting machines.
Overview of trouble reports:
Betsy McClain, Deputy Town Clerk in Hanover New Hampshire, reported that their machine broke down during the election and LHS Associates came out to make repairs. This same machine had just been repaired by LHS for the same problem which was that a deflector or visor that guides votes into a bin for write ins versus regularly marked ballots was malfunctioning. The write ins were being directed into the regular vote bin. The LHS staffer reached into the machine and connected a cable.
Linda Hartson, Town Clerk of Exeter New Hampshire, also reported that LHS Associates came out and fixed the deflector or visor inside the mechanism during the primary race January 8th. This was again the deflector or visor that guides votes with write ins to one bin and regularly marked ballots to another bin.
Paul Bergeron, Clerk of the Election in Nashua New Hampshire oversees elections in 9 wards. He said he did have a bad memory card on set up and testing and he burned a new one and provided it to one of the wards. He did so under direction of LHS with their software on his laptop.
Trisha Piecuch, Town Clerk of Manchester New Hampshire, said she oversaw all of the phases of elections including set up and testing and the election itself. She said they had one memory card failure in Ward 3 and they used their back up card on hand to burn a new one for that ward under the supervision of LHS.
Also, one week prior to the primary race there was a problem with one of Manchester's AccuVote machines and an LHS Associates employee named Tina came out to repair it. She replaced a "chip and a reader" according to Piecuch. "I'm not sure what chip it is," she said. "It's the chip that will I'd say accepts the codes and everything like that. So they [LHS} again err on the side of caution and where it looked like it was a reader problem they decided to be safe and replace both because they didn't want us having any problems".
In some areas where town officials are not equipped to burn or code their own back up cards, the Town Clerks indicated that if memory cards failed during the election they would call LHS to come and change the card. This is consistent with what LHS staff members have told me about their routine practice where memory cards fail.
Yet, when I contacted Jim Kennedy, New Hampshire's Deputy Attorney General, to find out more he indicated that LHS would not make card switches in New Hampshire during elections. He said there are clear protocols for setting up machines and storing them having to do with seals and so on but he knew of no specific written security protocols that would apply to LHS. He said I should ask moderators and the Secretary of the State for further information.