ALSO: For benefit of Venango County's still-in-denial neighbors in Erie County, a brief history of ES&S' epic failures...
By Ernest A. Canning on 10/3/2011, 10:05am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

"What is a vote worth?" Venango County, PA's Election Board Chairman Craig Adams, a Republican, asked last week. "If the vote is counted it is priceless. If it is not counted, I don't care what it costs. Let's get a right."

"After months of legal wrangling," Marybeth Kuznik of the non-partisan Election Integrity advocacy group VotePA told The BRAD BLOG last week, Venango County's landmark independent forensic examination of the notoriously unreliable and 100% unverifiable ES&S iVotronic Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, most often touch-screen) e-voting system finally got under way.

Kuznik explained that the study comes in the wake of the heavily Republican-leaning county having experienced "numerous reports of vote-flipping, candidates missing from screens, write-ins missing, and high undervote rates in their May 17 Primary." Some candidates on the ballots even were reported by the voting machines to have received zero votes...

As reflected in a video report from local NBC affiliate WICU-12, posted at the end of this article, the Venango County Election Board --- comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat --- has decided to vote on paper ballots this November, as they've turned their iVotronics over to two Carnegie Mellon University computer science professors for the forensic audit. The experts are examining the systems for free. Adams' "I don't care what it costs" remark flows from the county's decision to spend up to $20,000, primarily for a high-speed optical-scanner, to count the paper ballots in this fall's election.

The Nebraska-based ES&S (Election Systems & Software), describes itself as the world's largest voting machine company. It's certainly the largest e-voting vendor in the USA.

Kuznik calls the independent audit a "a huge development because it is the first time a sitting election board in Pennsylvania has granted unfettered access to a paperless iVotronic voting system for the purpose of forensic testing after problems were reported in a live election."

She adds that the study "will be ongoing for the next several weeks," and lauds "the enthusiastic co-operation" of the Venango County election board for the "rare" instance of such a body "when it comes to investigating electronic voting troubles."

"The Venango County Election Board members are true heroes," Kuznik tells us, "as are the computer scientists who are donating their services to conduct the exam."

The WICU-12 report below also reflects that election officials in the Keystone State's Erie County --- which votes on the same, oft-failed systems --- are either clueless about how their own unverifiable e-voting machines work (or don't) or are simply in denial about them.

"We have not had an election as yet that doesn't match Election Night totals to the internal machine totals, right down to the audit totals from the flash cards," an unidentified Erie official explains to WICU-12 with a straight face. "Everything has matched one-hundred percent," she says, failing to note that there is no actual verifiable record demonstrating that any of those computer-generated numbers actually reflect the intent of any voter.

In the meantime, as Venango waits for results from their analysis, and in hopes of saving the voters of both counties both time and money --- and perhaps their next election --- it's worth offering a very abbreviated history of some of the remarkable recent and systemic failures of ES&S voting systems across the nation, along with a less expensive, and infinitely more reliable and overseeable means for fulfilling Chairman Adams' laudable desire to "get it right".

UPDATE 10/10/11: Venango County's Republican Board of Elections Director Craig Adams calls in to the Mike Malloy Show while Brad Friedman is guest hosting, to offer more details on why they've commissioned their landmark independent forensic analysis of the county's failed ES&S voting systems. Full details now here...

A brief history of systemic ES&S voting system failure

During a detailed series of reports on the virtually-inexplicable numbers produced by the ES&S iVotronics used in the 2010 South Carolina Democratic primary to elect Alvin Greene, a guy that almost nobody had ever heard of, Brad Friedman furnished a brief history of ES&S failures.

Given the continued use of a system that poses a direct threat to the integrity of our democracy, that history bears not only repetition but an updated expansion...

Faulkner County, AR - Though the ES&S iVotronics were said have "worked to perfection" during testing and early voting, a number of election outcomes in the 2008 local primaries had to be reversed after it was discovered the internal numbers didn't match with the systems "paper trails". The County Election Commissioner said the failure "should not have been possible".

Sarasota County, FL - The 2006 special election for U.S. House between Vern Buchanan (R) and Christine Jennings (D) was ultimately decided by just 369 votes after an extraordinary undervote rate resulted in the disappearance of some 18,000 votes on ES&S iVotronics in Sarasota. (See our special coverage category here.) Speculative cause for the missing votes were attributed to bad ballot design on the touch-screens, leading some voters to not notice the race. But that explanation failed to account for the hundreds of complaints filed on Election Day that voters were unable to vote for Jennings even after trying again and again to have the touch-screen register a vote for her.

Monroe County, AR - Thousands of votes are reported on Election Night, and then promptly disappear after the May 18th U.S. Senate primary election. Neither state nor local officials have yet been able to explain what happened or why.

Clay County, KY - Six high-ranking election officials --- including the County Clerk, a Circuit Court Judge and the School Superintendent --- are found guilty of federal election fraud after it was found that they'd been buying and selling votes for decades. Most recently, in 2006, they had drafted conspirators change their registration from R to D in order to work at the polls and change the votes of voters on ES&S iVotronic touch-screens after each voter had finished voting.

Pottawatomie County, IA - The results of a number of races in the 2006 GOP Republican primary are overturned after a hand-count is ordered when the County Clerk noticed a young college student that nobody had heard of, had defeated a long-time incumbent in one of the races. The hand-count revealed that a number of those who thought they'd lost, had actually won. Unlike most of the other problems listed here, this race was conducted on ES&S' paper ballot system, but was said to have been caused by misprogramming of the tabulators.

Los Angeles County, CA - In the statewide 2008 primary, on an ES&S InkaVote Plus (an electronic ballot marking device, as opposed to a touch-screen system), the system misprinted 4 of the 12 votes cast by Brad Friedman. The cause was attributed to a poll worker having punched in the wrong ID number into the system when setting up his ballot. Once again, however, in the 2010 primary, on the same machines at the same precinct, Brad was given the incorrect ballot, twice, by two different machines and ended up voting manually on paper, instead of having all of his selections misprinted.

Carroll County, AR - During a May 18, 2010 election, a candidate for County Clerk filed a complaint after a local Circuit Court Judge gave an affidavit detailing his own attempt to vote for the candidate had resulted in the ES&S iVotronic touch-screen flipping the vote to his opponent. One of the Judge's employees --- who had voted at a different location, at a different time --- reported the same problem.

Palo Pinto County, TX - Reports of touch-screen vote-flipping on the ES&S iVotronic machines during early voting in the 2008 Presidential election.

Berkeley County, WV - Man reports touch-screen vote flips 5 times on the ES&S iVotronic machine during early voting in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Jackson and Putnam Counties, WV - Residents in both counties report touch-screen vote-flipping on the ES&S iVotronics during early voting in the 2008 Presidential Election. As reports persisted, a filmmaker captures, on video, a vote-flipping on the screen during Jackson County Clerk's demonstration of how "calibrating" the touch-screen solves the problem. In this case, as seen in the video, it didn't.

Davidson County, TN - Election Integrity filmmaker Patricia Earnhardt reports trouble getting the ES&S iVotronic to register her vote, despite repeated tries during early voting in the 2008 Presidential Election. A pollworker called over to help tries to choose for her, only to see a different candidate get selected on the touch-screen.

Clay County, AR - It's discovered that pre-election tests were not performed and, therefore, machine totals on the ES&S iVotronics were not "zeroed out" before voting began on Election Day in the 2008 general election.

White County, AR - A virtual ES&S meltdown occurred during local primary elections in 2008 when errors from "5,360 votes, or 86 percent above the number of votes cast" were discovered to ballot misprogramming to names left of the ballot entirely to complete malfunction of the absentee paper-ballot op-scan reader.

Cleburne County, AR - During a 2006 run-off election, a mayoral candidate in Heber Springs went to the County Clerk's office to investigate reports from family members of vote-flipping on ES&S iVotronic machines. After the Clerk told him that such flipping was not possible, they were both able to watch it happen before their eyes twenty times in a row!

Orlando, FL; Benton County, AR; Poinsette County, AR - Various 2006 ES&S iVotronic messes, including more votes than citizens in several areas of Benton County, enormous undervote rates across several counties in FL and, one of our favorites, in Poinsette County, AR, a candidate for mayor in the small town of Waldenburg receives ZERO votes, despite both he and his wife (at the very least) having attempted to vote for him!

South Carolina 2010 Democratic Primary provides the 'it's the machines transparency, stupid!' moment. - Alvin Greene was unemployed; virtually unknown. He had no campaign website, no volunteers, no campaign literature. He didn't even own a computer or a phone. His opponent, the respected circuit judge and former state legislator Vic Rawl had raised hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars, appeared at 80 campaign events; had hundreds of volunteers.

The numbers were beyond absurd. Lancaster County paper absentee ballots went to Rawl 84% to 16%. The unverifiable touch-screens in the same county, however, said Rawl lost the county by 17%. Greene received more votes than were cast in 25 Spartanburg County precincts. The votes of 50 other precincts were missing from the final count. Statewide, the virtually unknown Greene somehow managed to captured 60% of the vote, according to the iVotronic DREs.

Denied access to the iVotronic memory cartridges, source codes, and machines, Rawl nonetheless presented an impressive five-hour case to the state Democratic Party Executive Board in contesting the race. Two computer scientists testified that system malfunction provided the only reasonable explanation. Voters said they saw their votes flipped to Greene. Campaign workers saw poll workers swapping out memory cartridges during the election.

Rawl's challenge of the machines was ignored by most of the mainstream media and summarily rejected by the Democratic Party's Executive Board, largely for what has been described to The BRAD BLOG by insider sources as "political reasons".

North Carolina - The NC GOP filed a lawsuit seeking to ban the iVotronic after witnessing "widespread" touch-screen failures and vote flipping to Democratic candidates.

A few loose screws

In "The Trouble with Touch-Screens" (see video below), Dan Rather visited the Manila sweat shop where he witnessed the shoddy assembly of the ES&S iVotronic LED screens by $2.50/day workers. A worker explains in his report that the company's "quality control" process at the Filipino facility, on the rare occasions that it was applied, was to hold up one of these sensitive items of electronic equipment and shake it to determine whether there were any loose parts rattling around inside.

When he covered Rather's documentary at The BRAD BLOG, the late John Gideon observed:

The machines made by ES&S may not have any screws loose, but the folks who think this is any way to run a democracy certainly do!

Democracy's Gold Standard

While Chairman Adams' "damn the costs, let's get it right" attitude is laudable, in truth the expensive means chosen --- a high speed scanner --- like the DREs, is vulnerable as well to both unintended failure and insider manipulation.

The alternative is application of Democracy's Gold Standard --- hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in each precinct on Election Night with, and in front of, the public --- a process completed by some 40% of towns in New Hampshire every election, often more rapidly than their machine-counting counterparts.

Not only would payment to part-time employees on Election Night be cheaper, but the monies paid to local employees would be recycled into the local economy whereas the purchase of expensive scanners may enure to the benefit of a corporation that may be based in another state or another country.

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NBC affiliate WICU-12's report on Venango County, PA's decision to vote on paper, and Erie County's denial, follows below (if the video fails to load or play below, you can see it on the WICU-12 website here)…

Part I of Dan Rather's "The Trouble with Touchscreens" (30:09) follows...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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