An update to the reports of an e-voting 'virus,' and other failures, in New York's recent Special Election for the U.S. House...
By Brad Friedman on 11/23/2009, 10:43am PT  

John Conklin, the Director of Public Information for New York State's Board of Elections has now issued a statement in response to the Gouverneur Times' article by Nathan Barker last week, alleging a "VIRUS in the VOTING MACHINES" [caps in original headline] which, the paper says, "tainted the results" of the recent Special Election for the U.S. House in NY's 23rd Congressional district.

We responded to Barker's detailed article ourselves over the weekend at some length, noting both the accurate and inaccurate information and assertions included in the online publication's coverage.

Conklin's response has drawn two responses in turn from the Gouverneur Times, as the right-leaning publication appears to have joined in the fight for election integrity, at least on behalf of their favored Conservative Party candidate whose apparent election loss has indeed been "tainted" by the very same concerns about which The BRAD BLOG has been warning for years. We're happy to see their new-found concerns, even as Republican partisans in political alignment with the Times have been ignoring and/or disparaging similar reports for years following elections in which Democrats have been the apparent victims of similarly failed voting systems...

Conklin's response charges the Gouverneur Times article was "full of inaccurate information" and denies the existence of a virus in the voting machines. He does confirm again, however, that there was a "software problem identified during our mandatory pre-election testing regimen prior to Election Day," and that "voting systems were corrected and re-tested and the corrective action was applied successfully," though he conceded that "human review of the software problem did not adequately identify every machine that had the problem."

The original assertion of a "virus" in the new e-voting machines used in the election was based on a Times quote of Hamilton County Elections Commissioner Cathleen Rogers, who, they reported, asserted "there was a virus" in new ImageCast paper ballot optical-scan systems made by Sequoia Voting Systems and Dominion Voting, which required a "fix" by voting machine company employees in the days prior to the election. The machines were used as part of a pilot program during the election, serving, essentially, as a beta test, with real voters, during a real election. This wouldn't be the first time that real voters were used as guinnea pigs to test such e-voting systems in real elections. It's been happening for years, since the 2002 Help America Vote Act allocated billions of dollars for the "upgrade" of voting systems across the nation.

Democratic candidate Bill Owens would be named the winner of the November 7th NY-23 election, seen by some as a bellwether for 2010, over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Republican Dede Scozzafava (who dropped out at the last minute, throwing her support to the Democrat). Owens was quickly sworn in to the U.S. House just days after the election, before all votes were counted, and before many errors in tabulation were discovered in the post-election canvass. Owens would become a U.S. Congressman in time to cast a crucial vote in favor of the Democratic health care reform bill the day after being sworn in.

The Gouverneur Times has now responded to Conklin in two different articles (one here by publisher Scott A. Redick, and another here by Barker, the reporter of the original "VIRUS in the VOTING MACHINES" piece), offering various meritorious "fact checks," though lacking corrections for points on which they did get several items wrong, as we discussed in our own weekend coverage.

As we averred over the weekend, there are now certainly more than enough problems and questions concerning the electronic tabulation of ballots in the election that a full, district-wide, manual count should be publicly performed to remove any doubts, if possible, concerning the accuracy of the final results.

Hoffman has asked for such a manual count himself, and he is as right to do so as he is wrong to offer his embarrassing, democracy-undermining and evidence-free assertion that the community organization and long-time wingnut whipping-boy ACORN helped to carry out "another stolen the election," as he did last week.

Such a count should occur out of respect for the voters, even though, by the Republicans' own precedent, set in a similar Special Election in 2006, it is no longer up to the voters or offficials or courts of New York to determine the "winner" of the House seat. Rather, the matter is now wholly up to the whims of the Democratic-majority Congress as The BRAD BLOG pointed out a week or so ago in an article we filed on NY-23, written as tabulation failures in the race were beginning to emerge.

Nonetheless, the voters of NY-23 deserve to know who they selected to be the winner, just as the voters did in, among many other recently failed elections, FL in 2000 when -16,022 (that's negative 16,022) still-unexplained votes were incorrectly tabulated for Al Gore by a Diebold system in Volusia County; in GA in 2002 after Diebold technicians privately applied an uncertified software patch to unverifiable touch-screen systems statewide prior to the Senatorial upset election of Republican Saxby Chambliss over Democratic Sen. Max Cleland; in OH in 2004 when multiple tabulation errors on multiple e-voting systems in multiple counties resulted in George W. Bush winning the state over Sen. John Kerry by just six votes in each precinct; in CA's 2006 Special Election where Republican Brian Bilbray was quickly sworn in to the U.S. House before the election was certified and before tens of thousands of votes were counted at all, as cast on hackable Diebold voting machines containing illegal source code which, as The BRAD BLOG revealed at the time, were effectively decertified when they were sent home with pollworkers on "sleepovers" in the days prior to the election; and in FL's 2006 election when 18,000 votes were entirely lost on ES&S touch-screen voting systems in Democratic-leaning Sarasota County as the Republican Vern Buchanan was named the "winner" by just 369 votes over the Democratic candidate Christine Jennings.

The assertions and concerns expressed by Gouverneur Times' Barker and Reddick deserve to be taken seriously, even if they are only now emerging as displaying an interest in transparently and accurately tabulated elections. We'll hope that concern continues into future elections, even where a candidate they didn't support appears to have been adversely affected by a failed voting system.

We also hope that they, and those on the Right who now join them as new converts to the very same concerns that Election Integrity advocates have been expressing for years, will soon come to appreciate the only legitimate solution to these concerns that we've been able to come across in our many years of covering this issue: fully transparent, citizen-overseeable, precinct-based, hand counting of voter-marked paper ballots, as described in our recent OpEd, "Democracy's Gold Standard," as written on behalf of the progressive Commonweal Institute, of which we are a Fellow.

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A couple of points worth noting, even for those who don't bother to click through the links offered above.

NY Election Integrity advocate Howard Stanislevic, a supporter of New York's existing mechanical lever systems (soon to be replaced by the new op-scan systems, unless something changes), wrote an article over the weekend asking how it can be that the state's pre-election tests failed to properly identify all of the voting machines on which the software error was discovered prior to the election:

If the problem was caught by a pre-election logic and accuracy test[ing] as claimed by the State Board of Elections, then why wasn't the problem caught on every machine where it existed? The SBoE has said that not all machines with multi-winner races were identified, but all machines were supposed to be tested. This means that the tests may not have been run as required; or the tests may have failed to detect the problem in all cases; or the test results may have been ignored.

Countering the assertions of state Board of Elections operations director Anna E. Svizzero in an a Watertown Daily Times article on Friday headlined "State: Use of new voting machines 'very successful,'" the Gouverneur Times' publisher Reddick offered a nice and quick summary of the various confirmed problems discovered following the NY-23 election:

In Lewis, Schuyler and Seneca Counties, ImageCast ballot scanners failed.

In Broome County, hand counts revealed the ImageCast ballot scanners in five voting districts had miscounted votes. In some cases the machines rejected valid ballots.

In Cayuga County, again ImageCast ballot scanners crashed. Some rejected valid ballots that other machines accepted.

In Fulton County, ImageCast ballot scanners were impounded after it was found they were not working properly.

In Steuben County, the ImageCast ballot scanner in the first ward malfunctioned.

In Oneida County, at the Vernon polling place, none of the three ImageCast optical scanners would operate.

In Jefferson County, inspectors from four districts claim that "human error" resulted in their "mistakenly" entering 0 votes for Hoffman in several districts, resulting in Owens leading Jefferson County on election night though a recanvas of the computer counts showed that Hoffman was actually leading.

In St. Lawrence County, machines in Louisville, Waddington, Claire, and Rossie "broke" early in the voting process on Election Day. Republican Commissioner Deborah Pahler said that the machines kept "freezing up... like Windows does all the time". Frank Hoar, an attorney for the Democratic Party, initially ordered the impound of malfunctioning machines but released the order on Nov. 5th so that Bill Owens could be sworn in to Congress in time to vote on the House Health bill on November 7th.

If such an election "was very successful," as asserted by NY state's Svizzero, we can only imagine what an electoral disaster might have been.

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