Monday, August 25, 2008

Lost Votes and Lame Excuses - Part 1

A voting system used in 34 states contains a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped... (Washington Post, August 21st, 2008)

The problem was identified after complaints from Ohio elections officials following the March primary there, but the logic error that is the root of the problem has been part of the software for 10 years... [my emphasis] The flawed software is on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier [formerly known as Diebold.]

True to form
the vendor's first response to complaints from election officials was to blame the state employees and pollworkers.

As recently as May, Premier said the problem was not of its making but stemmed from anti-virus software that Ohio had installed on its machines. It also briefly said the mistakes could have come from human mistakes. Further testing by Ohio elections officials and then high volume tests by Premier uncovered the programming error.

In the wake of Premier's admission, the Secretary of State of Connecticut announced the widest audit of election results since the state's switch to optical scanner voting machines. One in three machines used in the recent primaries will be audited.

The disclosure is also stirring new worries that an unofficial laboratory testing system failed for years to detect an array of flaws in $1.5 billion worth of voting equipment sold nationwide since 2003.

McClatchey Newspaper's Greg Gordon provides a run-down of the process which led to the specious certification of electronic voting machines based on "qualified" reports list issued by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) who relied on the ratings reports of private testing laboratories with whom
vendors secretly negotiated payments ... helped design the tests, got to see the results first and only shared the codes driving their software with three NASED technical experts who signed non-disclosure agreements.

The lab endorsements aided vendors in selling nearly $1.5 billion in equipment to states and counties from 2003-2007, most of it financed by a gush of federal dollars under the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

The HBO film Hacking Democracy provides a glimpse of the dubious reliability of the testing process as examined by Black Box Voting founder Bev Harris. (Relevant section bgins at 5:30.)

And kudos to New York State Election Commission co-chair Doug Kellner for the quote of the week. Responding to the Premier/Diebold revelations Mr. Kellner said (via McClatchey)it's now clear that a "qualified" rating from NASED is "meaningless ...a piece of toilet paper."

- Joanne Lukacher