Cutting corners: County will begin using touch screens and printers that often failed in testing
February 25, 2006. Early voting in Illinois begins Monday February 27th and voters throughout Illinois will use new voting equipment purchased at a cost of about $100 million, primarily with money appropriated under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) which provides funds to replace outdated and outmoded voting systems and ensure increased accessibility and independence for voters with disabilities.
The majority of counties in Illinois, including DuPage, have purchased touch screen devices made by Diebold Election Systems, Inc. The AccuVote-TSX® touch screen comes equipped with Diebolds AccuView® thermal printer because the Illinois Election Code requires that all touch screen machines have a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The touch screens are significantly more expensive on a per precinct basis so most election officials are providing only one or two per precinct. That means that most DuPage voters will use paper ballots read by optical scanners.
But how reliable are these new touch-screens and their printers? In the first significant large-scale testing of the Diebold touch-screen terminal and attached printer on July 20, 2005, 96 Diebold TSXs with AccuView printers were tested by the California Secretary of States office in a setting designed to emulate a real election. In its report Analysis of Volume Testing of the AccuVote TSx / AccuView, issued by the California Voting Systems Technology Assessment Advisory Board, 14 printer problems and 20 software crashes were noted. 29 distinct machines were involved, meaning that 30.2% of the machines tested, nearly one-in-three, failed.
On December 20, 2005, Mark Radke, vice president of sales for Diebold, described the California test as successful at a meeting of the Illinois State Board of Elections. However, members of the Illinois Ballot
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Radke also told the Board on December 20th that the problems with respect to the AccuView printer had been fixed. However, that appeared not to be the case. When the State Board of Elections met again on January 27, 2006 to consider certification of the AccuVote-TSX touch-screen and its attached printer, Dianne Felts, director of voting systems and standards for the State Board said that during testing done by her staff, printer jams had been experienced on several occasions. She described the problem as the paper getting caught and scrunched. Ms. Felts indicated that it was possible to read some of the records, but others werent legible.
This was similar to the California test report which stated, In every case where a printer failure occurred, the loss of VVPAT [Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail] records would be evident upon inspection of the paper trail. In every such case, the paper stopped advancing and the printer overprinted multiple lines of text to the same place on the paper. The report concludes that : The loss of VVPAT records would be problematic during any recount . . . lost VVPAT records might constitute lost votes. During the test, Diebold machines lost 1.37% of the votes cast, enough to put the results of most elections in doubt.
On January 27th a representative from Fidlar Election Company, Diebolds distributor in Illinois, said that a fix had been tried, a plastic strip to line up the paper better, but apparently it didnt work. Despite this, the Board certified the touch-screen and printer based on Fidlars promise that the problem would be fixed by the primary. Once again, it was Diebold saying, Trust us. Havent we heard that somewhere before?
Some in DuPage County are questioning expenditures for the new system which might cost up to $6 million in addition to the $4.4 million the County has spent in the last two years, including members of the DuPage County Board: It seems we just bought a very expensive and state-of-the-art optical scan system, board member Brien Sheahan said. I dont think much of spending millions of dollars more to get a new system when the current one is only a few years old.
Jean Kaczmarek, co-chair, Illinois Ballot Integrity Project, DuPage Chapter, agrees, "We've thrown questionable technology and loads of tax dollars at electronic voting while throwing common sense out the back door, leaving it wide open for hackers."
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In the February, 2006 issue of Election Focus, the DuPage County Election Commission describes the AccuVote-TSX in glowing terms, . . . this system provides industry-leading security, accuracy and portability. . . It is the first system in the electronic system industry to meet or exceed the stringent requirements of the Federal Election Commissions 2002 System Qualifications Standards. Well, OK, if you dont take into account that the Independent Testing Authorities (ITAs), funded primarily by the voting machine companies themselves, dont test for security - and neither does the Illinois State Board of Elections. In fact, even as the Board was discussing certification for Illinois on December 20th, the California Secretary of States Office was sending Diebold a letter dated that same day stating:
Unresolved significant security concerns exist with respect to the memory card used to program and configure the AccuVote-OS and the AccuVote-TSX components of this system because this component was not subjected to federal source code review and evaluation by the Independent Testing Authorities (ITA) who examined your system for federal qualification. It is the Secretary of States position that the source code for the AccuBasic code on these cards, as well as for the AccuBasic interpreter that interprets this code, should have been federally reviewed.
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