nusic: Frank Moschella
August 21, 2008
THE HIDDEN CAMPAIGN

34 state Voting Machines Contain
Programming Error That Dropped Votes

By Mary Pat Flaherty
A voting system used in 34 states contains a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped while being electronically transferred from memory cards to a central tallying point, the manufacturer acknowledges.

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, said Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold.

The flawed software is on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier and the problem with vote counts is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions that feed many memory cards to a central counting database rapidly.

Riggall said he was "confident" that elections officials through the years would have realized votes had been dropped when they crosschecked their tallies to certify final elections results and would have reloaded cards so as not to lose votes.

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has said no Ohio votes were lost because the nine Ohio counties that found the problem caught it before primary results were finalized.

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.

"We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error," Premier President Dave Byrd wrote Tuesday in a letter that was hand-delivered to Brunner. Premier and Brunner are in an ongoing court battle over the voting machines and whether Premier violated its contract with the state and warranties. Half of the Ohio's 88 counties use the GEMS system. Brunner has been a vocal critic of electronic voting machines,

Both Brunner and Premier said that remedies to the problem will be in place for the November presidential election.

A nationwide customer alert with recommended actions was issued Tuesday by Premier. Approximately 1,750 jurisdictions use the flawed system, Riggall said. Both Maryland and Virginia use it, he said, although Virginia does not relay its votes to a central counting point, which is where the problem surfaces, Riggall said. Maryland does use a central count, he said. The District of Columbia does not use the GEMS system.

The problem is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions that upload multiple memory cards during counts, Riggall said. The GEMS system is supposed to save information from one card at a time to be counted in order as the cards are read by a database that Riggall described as the "mother ship." But a logic error in the program can cause incoming votes to essentially shove aside other votes that are waiting in the electronic line before they are counted. The mistake occurs in milliseconds, Premier's customer notice says.

The mistake is not immediately apparent, Riggall said, and would have to be caught when elections officials went to match how many memory cards they fed into a central database against how many show as being read by that database. Each card carries a unique marker.

Officials in Butler County, Ohio -- north of Cincinnati -- were the first to raise the issue when 150 votes from a card dropped in March. Brunner's office originally said that 11 counties had the same problem but has since revised that to nine. Her office was not able to say how many dropped votes were discovered in those jurisdictions.

"I can't provide odds on whether dropped votes were not recognized" during the decade GEMS has been used, Rigall said, "but based on what we know about how our customers run their elections and reconcile counts we believe any results not uploaded on election night would have been caught when elections were being certified."

In his letter to Ohio's Brunner, Premier's president said, "Voters in jurisdictions Premier serves, both in Ohio and throughout the country, can be assured that election officials employing standard canvass and crosscheck procedures will count their votes completely and accurately."

Unlike other software, the problem acknowledged by Premier cannot be fixed by sending out a coding fix to its customers because of federal rules for certifying election systems, Rigall said. Changes to systems must go through the Election Assistance Commission, he said, and take two years on average for certification and approval -- and that is apart from whatever approvals and reviews would be needed by each elections board throughout the country.

Brunner said she appreciated "the forthrightness" of Byrd in his letter to her and commended Butler County officials "who went above and beyond the call of duty" to pursue the problem.

"As far as I know, we have not seen that problem," with dropped votes, said Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator for Maryland's State Board of Elections. Maryland counties do upload results to a central system -- which is what generates county vote totals on election night -- but state procedures call for counties to reload every memory card the day after the election to doublecheck results, Goldstein said.

The safeguards that Premier calls for its in customer alert, he said, already are in place in Maryland.

Reader comments
Regarding the comments about how it is possible to build a mistake-proof ATM but apparently not a voting machine: The real kicker is that many of those ATM's were made by...Diebold. They have the ability but they choose not to use it. Fascinating, no?
Posted by: flo | August 22, 2008 12:34 PM

It could all be sooooo much easier (and a lot less costly).

1. Go back to 'fill in the bubble' only.
2. Have all precinct volunteers (which usually consists of 3 - 6 people) count up the votes together.
3. Have the investigator, tally all the votes in the presence of the volunteers.
4. Seal the votes with the tally numbers clearly displayed for all volunteers to witness.
5. At the central offices themselves; have their volunteers recount, certify and present to their officials.
6. Those officials to lock up votes and report to Secretary of State in the presence of the witnessing volunteers.

No computers, no machines, just plain ol' ink and paper and witnessing volunteers.

Yes, this might be an expensive process for the '1 or 2' evenings, but in the long run it is far, far cheaper than these problem-ridden, tamper vulnerable machines and the very expensive impact such manipulations have on our democracy, by stolen elections.

6 steps (or 106 steps) should not be too many, to keep our democractic voting process as pristine and tamper proof as possible.

P.S. Why do so many Repubs seem to take the low road by name calling and insulting another person's point of view? Just state your objections with logic and resolution please. No personal attacks are needed.
Posted by: Simplicity | August 22, 2008 12:06 PM

Anti-Virus software on a voting machine? Hilarious. That's like if you go to a parent-teacher meeting and teacher says he always wears a condom when teaching. If you even think you need such a silly layer of protection, you are doing your job horribly wrong. India has 1.2 billion voters (four times as many as the USA) and they sensibly use free, Open Source software, that is immune from viruses, to count votes. We should just import our software from the world's biggest democracy!

Remember these diabolical Diebold machines were also designed to support negative votes. In Florida 2000 one precinct reported a lower tally for Gore as more (negative) votes were counted. No programmer would make that "mistake", but Diebold deliberately hired people with experience in computer crime... they knew what skills they needed. (The memory cards need to have zero votes at the start of the election, and that is checked. But zero can be -100 Gore votes and 100 Bush votes, in case the election officials need to add 200 votes for Bush to make him win. Cards like that are the best way to explain a precinct's total going down- there must have been less than 100 votes for Gore so the total remained negative.)

It's really not easy to make a computer program that cannot add, yet survives a certification processs. The Premier/Diebold people should be congratulated on their cleverness!
Posted by: sue.jonez | August 22, 2008 11:58 AM

Anti-Virus software on a voting machine? Hilarious. That's like if you go to a parent-teacher meeting and teacher says he always wears a condom when teaching. If you even think you need such a silly layer of protection, you are doing your job horribly wrong. India has 1.2 billion voters (four times as many as the USA) and they sensibly use free, Open Source software, that is immune from viruses, to count votes. We should just import our software from the world's biggest democracy!

Voting machine rigging always favors Republicans. Statistically that is impossible if it were due to simple random problems or programming errors. Electronic voting has always been a solution in search of a problem. There is no rational reason to abandon the simple paper ballot.
Posted by: Rick Cain | August 22, 2008 11:51 AM

Can't the article at least acknowledge beliefs that the Ohio election was rigged/stolen exist?
Posted by: Matt | August 22, 2008 11:31 AM

Doesn't anyone get it? "the problem with vote counts is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions" -- "larger jurisdictions" means urban areas, where minorities vote, and where they usually vote Democrat. It's a conspiracy against black voters. From the company that "promised to deliver Ohio to George W. Bush" when it was called Diebold.

Also, and this is very important,"The flawed software is on both touch screen and optical scan voting machines made by Premier and that feed many memory cards to a central counting database rapidly"...just because we're switching little by little to optical scanners, the problems remain at the level of the central tabulators, which are totally hackable and susceptible to fraud.

Where are the Democrats? Why are they caught flatfooted again? Don't they control Congress? Or are they on the payroll of the voting machine companies, many of which are foreign-owned or controlled, by the way.

Live free or Diebold!
Posted by: Silvio Dante | August 22, 2008 10:19 AM

Yes it dropped votes alright, Democratic votes in Democratic Districts. This was no error, it was intentional. Ohio was stolen.
Posted by: Sims | August 22, 2008 9:36 AM

DUMP THE CROOKED ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES FOR paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper
THEN DUMP THE CROOKED POLITICIANS-ALL OF THEM
Posted by: Anonymous | August 22, 2008 6:31 AM

These machines can easily be rigged. That is exactly why there needs to be a paper trail in every election for every ballot. There are too many evil and dishonest people that would be very willing to compromise the computer software, hardware, etc. in an attempt to achieve a desired outcome.
Posted by: USPatriot | August 22, 2008 2:14 AM

O gee, we are so suprised!!! Remember when Karl Rove was on his laptop saying don't worry about Ohio we've taken care of it and then there was this thing about vote counting when some districts had more votes than registered voters? Are we just supposed to forget this stuff? I guess we are ... coz it keeps on happening ... kind of like the drug trade ... if we wanted to turn it off, we could just stop the suppliers ... i heard that from the guy who wrote the 1600 page book on the kennedy murder ... he got interviewed on c span ... said we can do all kinds of things if we really want to ... DUH ... so the american people just seem to have a major case of dull indifference or sheepishness or ignorance or helplessness ... gawd i hope we can change that this time ... maybe the pollsters are using the same machines ...
Posted by: Gaias Child | August 22, 2008 2:00 AM

The voting machines are "flawed" in the exact same way the CIA intelligence was "flawed". The correct terms would be "intentionally manipulated". And please, stop and think. Why would there be Anti-Virus software on voting machines? OMG. Hello! These machines are not connected to the Internet or networked. That's why they pass around the little data cards that are supposedly dumping the votes. This story is a smokescreen for the fact that the machines are being intentionally manipulated.

The evidence for fraud is overwhelming.

After 8 years of Bush and decades of Republican controlled Congresses, I have completely lost faith in my fellow Americans judgement of character and ability to discern truth from total BS.
Posted by: Jason | August 21, 2008 10:40 PM

We want
paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper, paper,
not electrons.
Posted by: katman | August 21, 2008 10:15 PM

I am not supprised by this at all. I did the research in 2003 on voting machines. Do a simple google search, Diebold CEO - and you will find numerous examples of this snippet from the first search result:

"COLUMBUS - The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." The Aug. 14 letter from Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc. - who has become active in the re-election effort of President Bush - prompted Democrats this week to question the propriety of allowing O'Dell's company to calculate votes in the 2004 presidential election.

O'Dell attended a strategy pow-wow with wealthy Bush benefactors - known as Rangers and Pioneers - at the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch earlier this month. The next week, he penned invitations to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser to benefit the Ohio Republican Party's federal campaign fund - partially benefiting Bush - at his mansion in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington. "
Posted by: Issues | August 21, 2008 10:02 PM

Paper ballots somehow work just fine for the Canadians. Are they just smarter than us?
Posted by: gorto | August 21, 2008 9:53 PM

How much more are you going to take? What do they have to do to you? Do they have to come to your house and kick your door down?
Posted by: Mark | August 21, 2008 9:51 PM
© 2008 Washington Post

See SunMt archive of vote fraud through the years here.