(US-WY) – Vote Counting: Voting machine problems delay results

By November 9, 2006 Uncategorized No Comments
us-wyoming [11/09/06] A careful reading of the Casper Star-Tribune’s detailed reporting, below, provides a pretty good guess as to what was really going on. Carbon County and Laramie County reported very similar problems: When trying to upload precinct results the transmission balked. A closer look, using the Verifier tool1 at VerifiedVoting.org, shows that both Carbon and Laramie counties were using Diebold systems, and reading election official’s quotes obtained by the reporter, we can see that they were attempting to use what was called, at that time, a “blended system” for polling place votes. They were encouraging voters to vote on touch-screens but also had optical scans. Campbell County, which also experienced problems, used a different system.

What we know from excellent research by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition (FFEC)2 is that Volusia County and other Florida counties were trying the same thing, and had the same problem. Diebold had misrepresented its system, claiming that it would be possible to collect lots of votes on both types of polling place machines and then modem them in. That turned out not to be the case, because the GEMS central tabulation program does not allow it (something Diebold did not disclose to the counties purchasing their systems).

GEMS collects incoming vote totals from each precinct, and also tabulates absentee, early votes, and provisional ballots. The system has a database container to receive each kind of vote. There is only one container for polling place votes, so when they come in first, for touch-screens and next, for optical scans, the system only accepts the first transmission. As you read carefully what election officials say in the article below, you can see that they ran into the same situation Florida officials faced: A vendor who had promised functionality it did not have. Diebold belatedly admitted to Florida officials that you cannot transmit precinct results for two different kinds of machines.

One more point: Take the turnout stats with a large grain of salt. Wyoming cooks its books for turnout by comparing number of voters with number of regular, active voters on the list (rather than comparing with ALL voters on the list); furthermore, Wyoming has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the nation. If you look at “turnout” from the perspective of all voting age persons, the figures are not particularly good.

Computer glitches delay results3

Computer problems were blamed for delays in tabulating votes in several Wyoming counties from Tuesday’s general election – including Carbon County, where a lack of results created considerable intrigue well into Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Wyoming’s voter turnout was pegged at 74 percent – the same as in 1998, the last time an election was held in the middle of a president’s second term, but down slightly from 2002’s 78 percent.

At 10 p.m. Tuesday, several counties had completed their tallies. By 11 p.m., only a few remained undecided. At that hour Campbell and Carbon counties were the primary holdouts. By midnight Campbell posted its results, and Carbon remained the lone county with uncounted votes.

Hanging on the precipice were Republican Barbara Cubin and Democrat Gary Trauner, who were engaged in the closest race for Wyoming’s lone congressional seat in decades. It would all come down to how Carbon County voters had marked their ballots to determine which of the two would win.

And it was clear that Carbon had a glitch in the system.

During previous elections, the county had posted final results early, once by 8:30 p.m. By 1 a.m. Wednesday, however, only a portion of the ballots in eight of the county’s 20 precincts had been counted, and Deputy Election Clerk Lisa Smith lamented the fact that all voters hadn’t cast ballots on the county’s new electronic touch-screen voting machines.

Those units, first used in the primary election, had worked flawlessly. But the county also used optical-scanner voting machines. And that’s where there was a problem.

The data ports on the machines malfunctioned, Smith said. Instead of being able to quickly and easily transfer vote calculations electronically, it became necessary to enter the data manually by reviewing the tapes on the machines.

The secretary of state’s office was notified, and representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties were identified to begin the tedious, labor-intensive process, Smith said.

Election officials could not be contacted on Wednesday for additional information concerning the problem with the data transfer system.

Carbon wasn’t the only county with problems, however. Laramie County Clerk Debbye Lathrop said there were some troubles there election night when officials at the polling places were unable to download voting information to the central office computer.

Like Carbon, Laramie County has both paper and plastic ballots – the paper ballot with optical scanner and the electronic touch screen.

Election workers are instructed that if they cannot download after three tries they are to drive in to the election headquarters in Cheyenne with the equipment and transfer the information there.

“It’s labor intensive,” Lathrop said. The election officials, she added, wanted to be sure all the votes were properly counted.

The glitch delayed reporting of election returns in the county somewhat, but they still were earlier than with the old punch-card system, she noted.

There were few problems reported with accommodating voters at polling places around the state. And county to county, turnout was fairly consistent. Teton County had the lowest turnout – a little less than 68 percent. Albany County’s turnout was slightly higher.

Three other counties – Converse, Crook and Platte – led the state with 80 percent turnout.

Turnout was a little above average in Wyoming’s most populated counties: Laramie County’s was 76 percent, and Natrona County’s was 79 percent.

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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/

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