By John Gideon, Executive Director, VotersUnite.Org and Information Manager, VoteTrustUSA.Org --- May 8, 2006
This has been another week of "Train Wrecks" across the country. Three states had major primaries with mixed success and failure, a few states had local elections with failures, and some states are preparing for May primaries and they are meeting the "oncoming locomotive" as they can't get machines or software for the machines and are having to revert to paper ballots or lever machines.
Elections Systems and Software (ES&S) is now facing investigations, lawsuits, or just plain pissed-off elections officials in West Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, and other jurisdictions. And now we learn that Diebold has a huge security vulnerability that all voting systems experts who know the details are very concerned about.
Next Tuesday, May 9, finds the train barreling down on primary elections in West Virginia and Nebraska. May 16 brings potentially hazardous primary election whistle-stops in Kentucky, Oregon and, the grand central station that is Pennsylvania.
Let's take a look at some of the continuing derailments from the past week, about which prompted Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG to ask of D.C. politicians and, more notably, the National Mainstream Media: "Is anybody there? Does anybody care?"
DIEBOLD 'REVEALS' MAJOR SECURITY PROBLEM
According to an article in The Morning Call Diebold has found a 'glitch' that represents a 'potential security vulnerability'. After a bit of research it became evident that, in fact, Diebold had not found this problem and it is not a 'glitch' as they would have the voters believe. It's far worse than a mere 'glitch' as so many in the media (and at the voting machine companies) like to portray these things.
As later reported by The BRAD BLOG this problem --- a huge one --- was, in fact, discovered by Harri Hursti and Security Innovation in the inspection of Diebold TSx DREs in Emery County, Utah as organized recently by Black Box Voting. An act for which the 23-year elected county elections clerk, Bruce Funk has been pushed out of his job. Or so the state is still fighting to accomplish.
It appears at this early date that Diebold probably would have kept this vulnerability, --- reportedly a gaping security flaw --- quiet and not taken any action except that they were asked about it by people in Pennsylvania. They finally were forced to admit its existence and that it's, incredibly, a "feature" of all Diebold touch-screen systems! Administrative steps are being taken by the state, which has sequestered all of the machines, to mitigate, as much as possible, the impact of the problem.
What no one at Diebold has told anyone yet is why they allowed the voters in Ohio to vote on these insecure machines. It is apparent that Diebold had no intention of telling anyone but they got caught. Again.
One top state election official was quoted in The BRAD BLOG article as saying that this security vulnerability "relates to potential misuse of the procedure by which Diebold does field updates to the machines. It's not a bug --- it's a deliberate but unwise 'feature'. Every jurisdiction that uses the machines should be notified. Now that the story is out, I suspect they will be."
Unfortunately, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has still not set-up a Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandated "clearinghouse of information" that would ensure every jurisdiction that uses Diebold AccuVote TS or TSx Direct Recording Electronic voting machines would be notified of this issue. When contacted, the EAC's spokesperson questioned the source of the information until a well-known computer scientist was named as a person to be contacted. It is still to be seen whether the EAC will do their job.
Black Box Voting says they will be releasing redacted versions of the reports, to mitigate the security threat, from both Security Innovation and Harri Hursti this week. Complete, un-redacted versions will be sent to all states.
LAST WEEK'S PRIMARY SUCCESS: NORTH CAROLINA
Even though North Carolina is served entirely by ES&S and even though 1,000 memory cards had to be replaced by the vendor last month after crack state officials bothered to test them, this week's North Carolina primary was nearly trouble free. The successful primary is said to be attributable, in no small part, to the new legislation recently passed by the state and to the diligence of elections officials on the state and local level.
Also important to note is that North Carolina has an extensive network of activists who are well known by state and local elections officials and who work closely, in most cases, with those officials. As much credit needs to go to those activists as to the officials.
There is talk about the legislature changing some of the laws they just put on the books because they are too restrictive or, more likely, because some special interests don't want them or would prefer to see them changed. This would be a travesty. Why would they want to go from verifiable optical scan ballots and a voter verified paper audit trail requirement to unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, touch-screen) elections that cannot be recounted or audited? Why would they want less transparency in the election process instead of what they now have? Let's hope common sense and verifiable elections prevail in the Tarheel state!
LAST WEEK'S ELECTION FAILURE: OHIO
Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's talking-heads have been speaking all week about the great success the state saw in this past week's primary election.
Of course, Blackwell's office apparently ignored all of the problems across the Buckeye state or passed them off as "glitches" or "snafus" or otherwise blamed any problems on poll workers or voters. Even the media is complicit in the marginalization of the problems through the words they choose to describe them. One newspaper, on the same day had these two headlines over articles that described problems "Snafus plague new digital ballot system" and "Glitches mar Ohio's first punch-card free election".
As of May 6 --- a full four days after election-day --- Cuyahoga County had still not completed counting all of their ballots. Why? The county was forced to count 17,000 absentee ballots by hand because the Diebold optical-scan machines would not read them. There is some dispute over whether the machines were at fault or if it was the printer who printed the ballots who was at fault. Though it certainly seems as though they might have tested one to see if it worked before they sent out 17,000 to voters.
Also of note is that the county actually reported that at one point they could not find 70 memory cards from their DRE voting machines. As of May 5, there were still several cards that were lost. According to the Associated Press the county has used the back-up memory of the voting machines to provide the vote results in place of the memory cards. The state has promised an investigation into the problems in Cuyahoga County.
Credit needs to be given to the elections officials in Summit County. They were put in a nearly disastrous position by their vendor, ES&S, who provided them with memory cards that constantly failed during pre-election tests. Election officials predicted a disaster but they were able to overcome terrible service by ES&S and after multiple rounds of tests, they ended up with only one failed card on election-day.
No matter whether the problem is the machines, the poll workers, or decisions by elections officials, the voters are the ones who suffer when their votes are not counted. It's time that officials in Ohio begin to think about the voters.
LAST WEEK'S OTHER ELECTION FAILURE: INDIANA
The run-up to the primary election in Indiana was pretty much a disaster with many counties not sure if they were going to be able to meet state law because their voting machines were not programmed and ready to work until the very last minute. In fact, the problems were so severe that, as reported by The BRAD BLOG, the Secretary of State and the State Board of Elections have both announced investigations and possible fines for ES&S, or perhaps even banishment from the Hoosier state entirely! Primary day proved to be just as much of a "train wreck" in many counties.
The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal reported that Secretary of State Todd Rokita plans to send his chief counsel to Clark, Harrison, Jackson and Washington counties to investigate problems with voting systems sold and maintained by Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software. The paper went on to report:
"According to ES&S spokesman Ken Fields, the voting machines tabulated the ballots accurately at the precinct. The problem came when county election workers tried to electronically put the individual machines' tallies into a central computer to determine totals for each candidate.
"That meant the counties had to manually enter the number of votes for each candidate in each precinct."
Now, with all of the problems running up to the primary and the problems during the primary election, we learned on Saturday that Secretary of State Rokita has postponed, with no new date set, the hearing into the actions of ES&S. As reported by the South Bend Tribune ES&S requested and was granted a continuance.
"Feeney-Ruiz did not say what reasons the company cited for its motion, but ES&S had questioned the scope of the hearing when it was announced April 28.
"According to a formal complaint filed by Rokita that day, ES&S allegedly provided defective hardware, software and ballots in St. Joseph, Marion and Johnson counties.
"A company spokesman said he was only aware of service problems to counties, for which the company had already accepted some blame."
ES&S CONTINUES TO FAIL THE VOTERS OF WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia counties have had to use paper ballots in early voting after ES&S was a no show in many places. Many of them are working through the weekend in hopes that they can get ballot programming properly installed on their ES&S provided voting machines and then get all of the required tests done satisfactorily prior to Election Day this coming Tuesday.
On May 2, the Charleston Daily Mail, reported that Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper had filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State's office after ES&S failed to appear at public testing for the machines that morning.
The Daily Mail also reports:
Meanwhile The HuntingtonNews.Net reports, under the headline, "COMMENTARY: No, ES&S is Not a Division of FEMA: It Just Seems Like It in Wake of Foul-ups", that the state is reporting that 25 to 30 of the state's 55 counties will be completely ready for next Tuesday's primary. This fact is only due to the long-hours put in by local elections officials.
What of the other 25 to 30 counties in the state? WTRF-TV reports that many counties are going to go with paper ballots and either hand-count them or use optical-scan machines for the vote tally in light of the problems.
Meanwhile Secretary of State Betty Ireland has said this about ES&S:
ES&S has countered by making excuses and blamed the very law that has brought them millions, if not billions of dollars in contracts!
"What we're experiencing is challenges related to the implementation of the Help America Vote Act," Friedman-Wilson said. "We're working as closely as we can with our county partners as quickly as we can."
Friedman-Wilson, who said the company is contracted to provide voting equipment in counties in all but three states, said the company also had to rely on the cooperation of the counties in programming the ballots.
"ES&S doesn't have responsibility for the substance of the ballots," Friedman-Wilson said. "There's quite a bit of back and forth. It's an intricate process with many steps."
In other words, Friedman-Wilson is admitting that ES&S oversold their ability to provide their machines and their services. Who suffers for this greed? Only the voters, of course.
ARKANSAS COUNTIES TURN TO PAPER BALLOTS AND LEVER MACHINES DUE TO ES&S FAILURES
As reported by The BRAD BLOG and The Pine Bluff Commercial Jefferson County has decided that because of several ES&S "failures" the county will have to change their plans from using the ES&S iVotronic DREs to using their old voting system for early voting, the May 23 primary and run-off elections in June. The Commercial relates:
"In addition to being unable to ensure we would have everything we need to conduct the election, we would have no way to provide our voters with the access we desire in order to familiarize them with the machines," Ashcraft said.
"Ashcraft said that as of Monday, Nebraska-based ES&S had not provided the commission with ballots, earphones and flashcards. Earphones are required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Flashcards are needed to store voting data."
In the meantime state and local officials are working through the weekend, according to the Baxter Bulletin, in an attempt to have voting machines prepared for 8 2nd District counties. These counties are important because it is the only district in the state with a contested congressional primary this year.
Again, elections workers and officials are working overtime in an attempt to clean-up a mess that is only in existence because an election machine vendor over-sold their ability to provide contracted services. The voter ends up being the loser in the long-run.
MISSOURI COUNTIES DECIDE PAPER OR LEVERS ARE BETTER THAN FIGHTING ES&S FOR CONTRACT COMPLIANCE
The BRAD BLOG tells us that five Missouri counties have now joined the march back in time to their familiar paper ballots or lever machines.
Early voting begins in Missouri on May 8. Boone County is making contingency plans to drag a couple of their lever machines out of storage.
ES&S failed to properly provide ballot software for Carroll County who will now use paper ballots for early voting and only use e-voting for voters with disabilities in the primary.
Searcy County will use lever machines for early voting and on primary day if the iVotronics are not ready in time.
Newton and Marion Counties will use hand-counted paper ballots for early voting and hope that the machines will be ready for the primary.
Thus ends another week of failures and long hours by elections officials. It seems that some have gotten themselves on the right track and some are struggling to get on that track. Meanwhile the vendors continue to obfuscate and make excuses for their failures. While making millions of dollars in the bargain, of course.
Help America Vote, indeed.
In closing this week I would like to mention, again, Bruce Funk. He opened his office to allow Harri Hursti, Security Innovations and BlackBoxVoting to inspect the Diebold TSx voting machines that he was forced by the state of Utah to use in elections. For this act state officials have pushed him out of his job, even though it is his act of courage and responsibility that has led to the revelation of a security vulnerability that must be fixed before Diebold TS or TSx machines are used in any elections anywhere in the country.
Funk deserves our support. America needs more courageous and responsible elections officials like him. Please visit the VoteTrustUSA 'Election Integrity Action Center' and let the Emery County Commissioners know how you feel.
The previous four major chapters in our "E-VOTE 2006: Train Wreck" series can be found here and here and here and here