By Brad Friedman on 3/30/2012, 3:00pm PT  

The computers got it wrong. The losing candidates were declared and certified as the "winners." But they didn't actually receive more votes than their opponents. This time, we happened to find out.

As long-time readers of The BRAD BLOG know, there's a reason we routinely slam election officials and media for announcing wholly-unverified computer-reported results of elections before any of the ballots are actually examined by human beings.

So called, post-election "random audits" of a tiny number of paper ballots --- where paper ballots exist, where officials even bother to do that much --- are almost always useless, easily gamed, and, at any rate, almost always poorly carried out. Post-election spot-checks are no substitute for actually, ya know, counting actual ballots.

Nonetheless, election officials and media simply presume that optically-scanned ballots have been correctly tallied on Election Night because, after all, "computers are more reliable than human beings," as they like to say, and any result, apparently, is far more important than an accurate result reflecting the actual will of the voters.

The situation is made still worse in states like Florida where horrible election laws actually prohibit human beings from examining paper ballots to assure they've been tallied accurately after they've already been processed by a computer system. And it's all made even worse than that in Florida as the state has turned election results verification on its head by requiring results be certified just six days after the election, long before results can actually be canvassed by officials for any type of accuracy.

With all of that in mind, and all of the warnings The BRAD BLOG has long offered about optical-scan tallying systems, guess what's just happened in Palm Beach County, Florida --- one of the absolute most disastrous counties for elections in the entire country?...

From the Palm Beach Post:

The supplier of Palm Beach County's voting and tabulating equipment says a software "shortcoming" led to votes being assigned to the wrong candidates and the elections office declaring the wrong winners in two recent Wellington council races.

County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who insisted a computer glitch rather than human error was to blame for the fiasco, claimed vindication after Dominion Voting Systems released its statement.

Wellington and 15 other municipalities held elections on March 13. In Wellington, the ballot was set up with the mayor's race first, the Seat 1 council race second and the Seat 4 council race third.

Unbeknownst to elections officials, the vote totals for the mayor's race ended up being reported and later certified as the results of the Seat 1 race. The Seat 1 vote totals were certified as the Seat 4 results and the Seat 4 vote totals were certified as the mayoral results.

Yes, it's true that Palm Beach County simply cannot carry out an election properly on any type of voting system. It's true that...

But the problem in Palm Beach this time out was not the fault of Palm Beach. It was the fault of the same computerized optical-scan systems used all over the country. The systems which will once again be used this November, and which have been used throughout the primary cycle. The systems which failed in Palm Beach were made by Sequoia Voting Systems, which was recently purchased --- along with Diebold's Election Division --- by a private Canadian company named Dominion Voting.

With those two acquisitions --- and immediate lies about them both --- Dominion became the second largest e-voting system vendor in the country.

Is it any wonder then, with New York state as the last in the country to force all of its counties to move to computerized voting (many of them opting to go with Dominion-made scanners), that folks like Columbia County, NY's Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin joined with her Republican counterpart, Jason Nastke, to insist on only 100% hand-counted paper ballots in their elections, as we detailed this past Wednesday?

"The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit," Nastke noted earlier this week. In 2010 Martin opined in an editorial that her state "handed us a $50-million lemon when it required that we use computers to count votes." She went on to explain: "Since I, as election commissioner, have to certify to the accuracy of any election run under my watch, that steers me in the direction of a more elemental process --- a hand count under the watchful gaze of individuals who are invested in its accuracy."

No, the real wonder then is how it can be that more states and counties across this nation have yet to follow Martin and Nastke's lead in actually looking out for their voters, rather than relying on often-inaccurate, easily-gamed computer systems for the most central part of our electoral democracy: counting the vote.

Whether it's Dominion or Sequoia or Diebold or Hart-Intercivic or ES&S or any of the other private companies which have taken dominion over our once-public electoral system, they are all run by the same folks who move from company to company and from election office to election office and lie about the same crappy, unaccountable, secret vote-counting systems. The company names change, the people do not and neither does their error-prone technology.

The Palm Beach Post reports Dominion Voting Systems issued a statement earlier this week from Waldeep Singh, a vice president of customer relations. Prior to that, Singh worked for Sequoia. Prior to that, Singh worked for the California Secretary of State. They all work together. Just not for you.

"The incorrect reporting of vote totals which occurred in the Wellington [Palm Beach County] election was caused by a mismatch between the software which generates the paper ballots and the central tally system," Singh said in his statement.

"This synchronization difficulty is a shortcoming of the version of software currently being used in Palm Beach County and that shortcoming has been addressed in a subsequent version of the software. These enhancements help to prevent such an anomaly from occurring in the future. Dominion is in the process of providing this newer version to Palm Beach County."

Singh would not return the call from Palm Beach Post which had additional questions. That's standard operating procedure for these companies.

The paper goes on to report that Palm Beach County's Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher "has been in negotiations with Dominion to buy new software, but she said the upgraded software would not have been available for the March 13 elections because it has not yet been certified by the state Division of Elections."

The nice thing about hand-counting paper ballots --- other than the fact that citizens can actually oversee the results of their own elections and know the results are accurate, is that nobody has to rely on anybody to "certify" secret vote counting software that, years later, will be found to have been certified inaccurately, as is almost always the case.

Of course, the op-scan failure that happened in Palm Springs this year isn't all that unusual. What's so unusual is that anybody actually happened to notice it this time, and that election results may actually be changed this long after an election has been certified in which the wrong candidates were announced as the "winners" of their elections.

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UPDATE 4/2/12: More details now on how these elections were resolved over the weekend (by a public hand-count) and how Dominion is now claiming it wasn't really their fault after all, in a new statement to the state of Florida. The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, however, disagrees, as she explained today to us. Full details now here...

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