11/04/2006: Texas: Williamson County – ES&S voting machines miscount

tx-williamson-county

11/04/2006: During a public test, electronic voting machines made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) miscounted, for the second time, in the same way, in the same place, in the same election. Though the software had been certified and is not supposed to be changed after it is certified, ES&S dealt with the miscount by replacing the program with new software.

Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices. If election records are missing or can’t be inspected, the election is not accountable regardless of whether an election official says results are correct. In this case, the affected votes used a touchscreen with no paper ballots, which are essential election records needed to authenticate results. Accountability also involves compliance with control systems. Laws and rules prohibit substitution of voting software with changed versions unless examined and certified. Putting in a program “patch” circumvents control processes and evades certification and testing rules.

Only the iVotronic direct recording electronic (DRE) machines showed the miscount, which appeared during testing for both early voting and Election Day precinct voting. Williamson County was using a combination of paper ballots, counted with ES&S M100 optical scan machines, and paperless electronic voting, counted by ES&S iVotronic touch-screens. All early voting was counted by iVotronic electronic voting machines. Voting at precincts on Election Day provided iVotronics as an accessibility option for disabled voters, but used primarily paper ballots counted on ES&S computers.

Republican Valerie Covey was running against Democrat Randall Craig for Precinct 3 Commissioner; the report states that “When a straight-party vote was cast, the screen did not show that a candidate was selected for Precinct 3 commissioner.” It does not say whether the vote count omission affected just one candidate or both.

The American Statesman article, now taken offline by the Statesman, was archived by VotersUnite.org. 1

ELECTION TRANSPARENCY PROBLEMS

Software-based vote counting, which does not provide a way for voters, candidates, the media, election officials, or the public to confirm the truth of reported vote counts, violates basic transparency principles by placing sole control of vote counting into the hands of opaque methodology. Absent transparency, legitimacy of representation will always be questionable.

Testing does not always catch software that miscounts; in this case, it did, but the remedy was to replace the software with something new — bypassing another level of testing, the certification process which authorizes use of the system in the first place. When changed software is introduced during the last moments before the election, even minor levels of transparency offered through examination by certifiers are rendered moot.

VOTE COUNT PROBLEMS: When voters chose the “straight party” option, which is supposed to vote every candidate for the voter’s chosen party selection, the system failed to reflect votes for one race. The article does not state whether this miscount, coded into the software, affected just the Democratic or Republican candidate in this race, or both parties.

CHAIN OF CUSTODY PROBLEMS: Certified software was switched out immediately before the election, with new software to repair the problem. The public, the media, the candidates, and even the elections officials had no way to know what counting instructions were contained in the new software.

SPIN: “The same problem occurred at the beginning of early voting, but it was corrected and no votes were affected,” elections administrator Debra Stacy is quoted as saying. That “no votes were affected” is not provable, however, and the statement raises more questions. If the problem was corrected for early voting by inserting new software, as reported, why did the problem happen again during Election Day testing? Since there are no paper ballots, it is not possible to know whether actual votes were affected during real voting.

“I feel confident that Debra Stacy and the software company are going to get the issue resolved before the election,” Republican candidate Valerie Covey is quoted as saying, spinning to a trust-based model based on confidence, reassigning public transparency rights to an election official and a private company.

NUMBERS: “During early voting, 14 machines were used; 81 machines would be used on Election Day, one for each voting location.” However, the number of machines is unrelated to the number of votes in Williamson County. All early votes were counted on the iVotronic machines, and subsequent articles pertaining to Williamson County voting patterns indicate that, in 2008, 70 percent of all voters cast early votes. 2

ARCHIVED ARTICLE, thanks to VotersUnite.org ( http://www.votersunite.org/article.asp?id=6722 )

Electronic voting machines causing problems in Williamson County They may not be available by Election Day

By Lisa Ogle AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Saturday, November 04, 2006

GEORGETOWN — An electronic ballot may not be an option for Williamson County voters on Tuesday.

A public test of the voting machines’ Election Day software, which is required by state law, failed Friday. When a straight-party vote was cast, the screen did not show that a candidate was selected for Precinct 3 commissioner, Elections Administrator Debra Stacy said.

In that race, Republican Valerie Covey is running against Democrat Randall Craig to fill the unexpired term of Tom McDaniel, who died in February. The same problem occurred at the beginning of early voting, but it was corrected and no votes were affected, Stacy said.

This morning, representatives of Elections Systems & Software are expected to install new software in an effort to correct the glitch, Stacy said. Candidates and party members will be contacted before another test is run on Saturday, she said.

“I feel confident that Debra Stacy and the software company are going to get the issue resolved before the election,” Covey said. “I know all the candidates want an accurate count, and that’s the top priority.”

If necessary, the county may decide not to use the machines Tuesday, Stacy said. During early voting, 14 machines were used. Stacy said the total number of voters who used the machines won’t be available until Tuesday evening. Should they be approved for use, 81 machines would be used on Election Day, one for each voting location.

Some attendees of Friday’s test raised questions about whether Williamson County should continue working with Elections Systems & Software.

“We’ll review the vendor after this election and go from there,” Stacy said.

In Travis County, voters trying to cast their ballots Friday on the last day of early voting found long lines and sometimes had to wait an hour or more.

Mary Fero, spokeswoman with the election division of the Travis County Clerk’s office, said the long lines were due to to a number of factors, including changes in state law that shortened the early voting period by two days and a longer ballot caused by the introduction of more uniform election dates.

Fero said the last few days of early voting see the largest turnout and she said Friday appeared to follow that trend.

“By mid-afternoon, we had already surpassed (Thursday’s) vote totals,” Fero said. “It’s going to be a big day.”

Williamson County also saw a rise in turnout through Friday, election officials said.

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Concepts:

Election transparency: Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections, the essential steps being: (1) who can vote (voter list), (2) who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list), (3) counting of the vote, and (4) chain of custody. Reasons for transparency with sources: http://blackboxvoting.org/transparency/
All Black Box Voting stories related to election transparency: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/election-transparency/

NOTES:

  1. Lisa Ogle: Electronic voting machines causing problems in Williamson County, American-Statesman, 11/4/2006, archived at VotersUnite.org – http://www.votersunite.org/article.asp?id=6722 (original link: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/11/04/4voting.html)
  2. Philip Jankowski: County considers backing all electronic voting, The Hutto News, 04/22/2009, http://www.thehuttonews.com/editorial/article_c56cb9d0-aead-5a81-b95f-ab78edada679.html

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