Sunday, November 27, 2005

North Carolina and Voting Machines. Again

(NOTE: On monday (11/28/05) Diebold's request to be exempt from the penalties in the law was rejected -- see full details in the full text "Under the fold.")

Having worked in MIS/IT for most of my life, I'm usually aware, when someone claims that "he computer made a mistake" that someone is actually referring to a defect in design, or are attempting to cover up a manual error or deliberate action.

Oh, there certainly are times when there are equipment malfunctions, or sometimes very subtle errors in underlying OS(operating system) or driver design ("Drivers" are the subprograms that actually make hardware pieces like the network card, or modem, printer or keyboard work, and allow the hardware and OS to "talk" to each other).

Those defects are the grand exception, however.

And something that really is absurd is the proclamation that something that is really quite simple, and straightforward, is that "too difficult" or "too expensive" to do in an automated system.**

An infamous example was the claim, during the recent election cycle, that providing a physical audit trail of votes cast would be "too expensive" in terms of equipment and development effort. ANd the further claim that "it wasn't needed." A claim that was put to the test, and failed, when a special election in Florida was close enough to trigger the mandatory recount required by law.

January 2004: Florida. In a special election for the State House District 91 seat, with only one item on the ballot, ES&S electronic voting machines showed a total of 134 undervotes – that is, 134 ballots in which voters did not select a candidate even though it was a single-race election.

The winner received 12 more votes than the runner-up. Florida law requires a manual recount of invalid votes when the winning margin is less than one-quarter of one percent. However, election officials determined that no recount was required because the 134 invalid votes were cast on electronic voting machines, and there is no record of the original votes.

(EFF - Electronic Voting Machine Information Sheet Election Systems & Software — iVotronic)>

Because there was no verifiable audit trail, they could *not* do the recount.

In 2003, in an election in North Carolina, where there was only one issue on the ballot (a bond inititive), 354 undervotes were recorded. In both these cases, the undervotes point to problems with the voting machines, as it is extremely unlikely that hundreds of voters would show up for a single-issue election, and then purposely cast blank ballots.

Long Post -- See the full text, Under the Fold ...

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