ES&S voting systems fail yet again...
By Brad Friedman on 6/11/2012, 1:28pm PT  

Before, during and after last week's historic Wisconsin recall elections, we detailed why there is reason to be concerned about the computer-reported results of the votes cast across the state, even with the majority of those votes having been cast on paper ballots.

In short, the results are, and will remain, 100% unverified unless someone bothers to get a court order.

As we previously reported...

[T]hose ballots ... are tabulated by computer optical-scan systems like the ones in Palm Beach County, FL, which, in March of this year, had named several losing candidates to be the "winners." And like the ones in New York City which, in 2010, managed to toss out thousands of valid votes, including as many as 70% in one South Bronx precinct. And like the ones in Oakland County, Michigan, where officials found the same machines failed to count the same ballots the same way twice in 2008. And like the ones in Leon County, FL, which, in 2005, were hacked to entirely flip the results of a mock election.

In Palm Beach County, FL, the failure was discovered during a state-mandated, post-election spot check of 2% of the paper ballots. In New York City, it took nearly two years before the failures were discovered after the New York Daily News was able to examine the paper ballots via a public records request. In Oakland County, MI, election officials were lucky enough to discover the failure during pre-election testing. And in Leon County, FL, the hacker --- a computer security expert --- revealed the op-scan system flaw he exploited to flip the results of the election in an Emmy-nominated HBO documentary.

In all cases, it was only a hand examination of the paper ballots that revealed the mistabulations by the op-scanners.

Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, no such post-election hand-examination takes place for any ballots --- at least not without both a recount request and an order from a judge. There are no spot-checks to ensure accuracy, so there is no way to know if the results reported by the computers reflect what the actual voters said in Wisconsin. The reported results are therefore either accurate or they are not. Who knows?

We explained why all of the above means that we cannot know if Republican Scott Walker actually won his gubernatorial recall election anymore than we can know if John Lehman (D) won his challenge against incumbent state Sen. Van Wanggaard (R) in the District 21 state Senate recall on the same day. (If Lehman is certified as the winner, the Democrats will take majority control of the state Senate. Wanggaard should demand a hand count of all ballots. To do so, he needs to file for a recount, and then beg a judge to allow that count to be done by hand, rather by the same machines once again, as is the standard under the WI election code.)

For those who think such concerns are overwrought, if the above instance of op-scan machine failure aren't enough for you, take a look at what happened last week in three different counties in Montana, on the very same day of the recall elections in Wisconsin...

This is from Keila Szpaller's report last week in the Missoulian...

3 western Montana counties plagued by vote-counting machine troubles

Leigh Riggleman pulled an all-nighter in Lincoln County after running into problems with a ballot scanner in the primary election.

“There was no fix,” said Riggleman, assistant election administrator, on Wednesday. “The technician adjusted and adjusted and adjusted, and called, and talked to people, and it was merely a matter in some cases of running them (ballots) through a second time.”

At least three counties reported problems with ES&S 650 ballot scanners in this week’s primary: Lincoln, Sanders and Powell counties.
“They finally determined that the ovals were a little bit too dark, and the scanner was just finicky enough that it didn’t like the darkness of those ovals,” Riggleman said.

In some cases, the county went through an official duplication process for ballots that just wouldn’t count, she said. Riggleman said she hasn’t run into trouble before and hopes not to in November.

“My understanding of the problem is that it can be taken care of in the next election by the printer not printing as dark an oval as he’d printed this time,” she said.

So now we have an issue with the ink used on the printed paper ballots themselves causing false-positives for the optical-scanner. In the instances mentioned above, fortunately, the machines issued error messages. How many machines do not, and simply presume overvotes, or record a candidate who the voter didn't vote for as the selection for that voter?

This would seem to be yet another new vector for the malicious gaming of elections. Use slightly darker ink on one candidate than another and you force a vote for him/her, or otherwise force an overvote.

ES&S claims to be the largest supplier of voting systems in the nation. Their oft-failed machines --- we have lost track of how many election results their systems have lost, thrown or otherwise just completely screwed up over our past near-decade of covering this stuff --- will tally some 50% of the country's ballots in this November's Presidential Election.

Making matters even more troubling, the "fix" in this instance, as noted above, was for election officials to "remake" the ballots in secret, instead of simply counting those ballots publicly by hand. Hopefully they "remade" the ballots accurately, as per the voters' intent, but, again, who knows? We've previously written about the extraordinarily offensive practice of "remaking" ballots, as is done in Wisconsin and in many counties across the country when, for any number of reasons, paper ballots are not being read by the optical-scan computer tabulators.

Szpaller's piece goes on to explain how, despite the problems encountered with these systems, election officials simply cannot afford to replace them at the outrageously inflated cost of $50,000 to $60,000 each!

"I’ll tell you what," Riggleman, Lincoln County's election administrator is quoted as saying, "my ballot scanner is only about four years old. It should not be expired."

On the other hand, citizen eye-balls used for public, precinct-based hand-counting, which is actually overseeable (as per Democracy's Gold Standard), never expire and, unlike computer tabulators, they cost next to nothing each year.

In Sanders County, where the problem also occurred, the Missoulian continues...

“There are sensors that tabulate those little ovals that are on the ballot,” [Sanders' clerk and recorder Jennine] Robbins said. “If the sensors aren’t exactly right, if they’re set a little bit off, they don’t pick some stuff up.”
Eventually, she said counties around Montana may need to budget for updated machines, and that will be a large expense for everyone.

And then there Montana's Sec. of State who had heard nothin' about nothin' despite the all-nighters pulled in several of her counties the day before...

Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said she hadn’t heard of counties having machine breakdowns, although at least one county, Toole, had no power the entire evening and was running off a generator. But they still got their results in, she said.

Accurate results? Who knows?

Who, other than those of us here at The BRAD BLOG, seem to actually care anymore?

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