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Illinois Certification - a Recipe for Disaster?

By Robert A. Wilson, Illinois Ballot Integrity Project  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   No comments
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Tribune staff writer John McCormick says: "Final certification of the more than $50 million in equipment bought by the city and county from California-based Sequoia Voting Systems came none too soon, considering that early voting for the March primary starts in just 16 days." Chicago Tribune, "No more chads: City gears up for punch-free primary" - February 11, 2006.

Mr. McCormick also states in his article: "The new equipment will replace the notorious punch-card ballot--and its hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads. Voters in Chicago used the paper ballots since 1982, while those in suburban Cook County had punched choices since 1976."

He goes on to say, "The experience with punch-card ballots was less than stellar here and elsewhere. More than 120,000 Cook County voters in 2000 failed to register a choice for president or rendered their choice unusable by piercing holes next to names of two or more candidates."
We find this an interesting commentary in light of the proud declaration of the City and County in their Request for Proposals for Election Equipment (RFP - June, 2004):

"Unique among users of the PBC-2100, the Jurisdictions [Chicago and Cook County] use a system that scans a ballot for overvotes and undervotes, giving voters a "second chance" to insure their ballot reflects their intentions."

Unique indeed is a "system that scans a ballot for overvotes and undervotes, giving voters a 'second chance'" that fails 120,000 times out of about 1.9 million chances (over 6%) in one election! Interestingly enough, the November, 2000 problem was finally traced by the Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT) to a faulty template mold. Lance Gough, executive director of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said. "The Board ordered the remanufacture of all the templates, which was completed by the manufacturer at no cost to the City. IIT retested the new templates to ensure that they met the exacting specifications, and tens of thousand of punches were performed to ensure accuracy. These templates have been utilized successfully during the past four elections and have dramatically reduced the number of incomplete ballot punches." (emphasis added)

Also contributing to the November, 2000 fiasco was, according to Gough, " . . . the ballot screening enhancements should have been fully operational for the 2000 Presidential election, but the Illinois state legislature failed to act on several legislative attempts to modify the election code so that ballots could be screened through the PBC-2100. Following the 2000 election fiasco, the City and the County joined in the lawsuit that resulted in a Circuit Court Order allowing for the use of the voter protection features. These ballot screening procedures have been in place since, and have significantly improved voter accuracy and voter confidence."

Mr. McCormick leaves one with the impression that Chicago and Cook County were using old, out-moded punch-card systems from 1976 and 1982 which he describes as "notorious." Nothing could be further from the truth. The City and County purchased the ES&S PBC-2100 Precinct Ballot Counter in 1999, specifically in preparation for the 2000 presidential election. While the faulty mold may have contributed to the unusually high fall-off (7% in Chicago v. 3.1% in the County), the real reason the system under-performed was that the technology to detect overvotes and undervotes was available but simply wasn't turned on!

McCormick describes the Insight in-precinct scanner capabilities, “The new optical-scan machines will spit out ballots that are "overvoted," meaning more than one candidate has been incorrectly marked. But they will allow "undervotes," where people fail to mark a selection.”

In its RFP, Chicago and Cook County stated in the specifications, “Notification of undervote. Any proposed system must include a mechanism for alerting a voter that he or she has failed to cast a vote for one or more offices or propositions before the vote is finally cast, and to provide an opportunity to correct the undervote.” (Specification 3.5 – June, 2004)
If indeed the Insight optical scanner doesn’t provide such mechanism for alerting the voter to an undervote, it not only means that the Insight optical scanner doesn’t meet the specifications but represents a giant step backwards from the punch-card system it’s replacing which did have that capability.

Far from coming "none too soon," the interim (not final) certification has come much too soon for Illinois voters. On Feb 10, 2006, the Illinois State Board of Elections granted two-year interim certification to the Sequoia 400-C ballot scanner, the Insight in-precinct optical scanner, WinEDS central count system and the Card Activator which also combines the totals of the DREs (touch-screens) and optical scanners. The Board's action was on a short-notice telephonic conference.

The Illinois State Board of Elections appears to have adopted a "short notice" policy for certification. On February 6, 2006, the Board convened on a same-day notice and granted interim certification to the Hart InterCivic Ballot Now system. While the notice is dated February 3, 2006, it was not publicly posted until February 6, 2006. Apparently concerned about the Board's violation of Section 2.02(a) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act which mandates a 48-hour notice requirement, the Board changed it's website on Feb 10th to show a posting date of Feb 4th!

On January 31, 2006, the Board announced that it would consider certification of the Hart InterCivic eSlate touch screen on February 3rd. The Board adjourned its meeting on Feb 3rd but did not give notice that it would reconvene until February 6, 2006 to consider certification of the Hart InterCivic Ballot Now system, which the Board has now certified as well, even though the Ballot Now system was not on the original February 3rd agenda.

Even though testing of the Sequoia systems on February 7th appeared to indicate some flaws, the Board issued a notice in the afternoon of February 8th that it would convene at 9:00 am on February 10th to consider Sequoia interim certification. This meeting also violated Section 202(a) if the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Both Hart InterCivic devices were opposed by the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project on the basis of lack of testing for security flaws and known malfunctions in Boulder County, Colorado and Yakima County, Washington in 2004 and 2005.

The meetings of February 3rd and February 6th and February 10th were conducted by telephonic conference call as was the meeting on January 27th when the Board certified the Diebold AccuVote-TSX touch screen voting terminal with its AccuVote Printer. In fact, the majority of voting system components have been cerified at conference call meetings, a format that discourages public participation.

Further, when the Board approved the Sequoia AVC Edge DRE (touch-screen) with VeriVote printer on September 19, 2005, it did so without either the Board or its staff having read the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) report from Wyle Laboratories on the device. (The Board has denied FOIA requests for a copy of this report on the basis that it is "confidential.")

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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