February 12, 2008

ES&S iVotronic Electronic Voting System

Trust But Verify

President Ronald Reagan used the phrase "Trust, but verify" when referring to relations and agreements with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The current South Carolina election system asks voters to trust the Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S) iVotronic voting machines. The problem is that neither the voters, nor the candidates, nor the South Carolina Election Commission have a way to verify voting outcomes.

The iVotronic machines produce no paper record of voting and the people must rely solely on the results generated through the machinary hardware and software.

Indeed, problems with iVotronic machinery cropped up, according to CNN news reports, to confront Horry County voters in the January 18, 2008 Republican Primary. CNN reported on a widespread iVotronic system failure.

Malfunctioning voting machines plagued Horry County, which contains the cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. "Human error" put the machines offline in 80 percent of the county's precincts during Saturday's voting, according to county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier.

By 4 p.m. ET, only about four of the county's 118 precincts were without a working machine, Bourcier said. Polls closed at 7 p.m. ET.

. . . .

Bourcier said that voters in the affected precincts used paper ballots and any scrap of paper available to cast their votes. She said the county was bringing in 40 to 50 extra people to count ballots after polls close, and, she said, officials were aware that an order extending voting hours was possible.

Bourcier said the problem was caused by "human error." The last step in preparing the machines for Election Day is a "clearing" test that resets the machine data to zero. That test was not done on most of the machines, which locked them and made them unable to function, she said.
CNN Report.

The iVotronic voting machines used here are the same make and model as the machines used in the contested 2006 Florida congressional election between Christine Jennings (D) and Vern Buchanan (R), a race won by the Republican by 369 votes. The problem in Sarasota County was that 18,000 votes recorded on the iVotronic machines showed no vote for either candidate in the House race. The astonishingly high percentage (13%) of blank votes indicated citizens in Sarasota County, Florida, were disenfranchised.

Based on an alarming report called EVEREST, the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, recommended that Ohio scrap all direct-recording electronic touch screen systems. The EVEREST report indicated that the iVotronic System was susceptible to hacking, tampering, and vandalism. Evaluation and Validation of Election Related Equipment, Standards and Testing (EVEREST) Ohio Secretary of State.

The system failure in Horry County was attributed to innocent human error. That is likely the truth. However, it is also easy to conceive of nefarious, politically-sponsored tampering with machinery to influence an election for one candidate or another. For example, what would happen if over-zealous Republican Party operatives, posing as volunteer poll workers, sabatoged iVotronic machinery in a few large Orangeburg precincts during the November general election?

In the Florida House Race, the Democratic candidate Jennings challenged the election results based on the missing 18,000 Sarasota County votes caused by iVotronic machine failure. The challenge caused the federal Government Accountability Office to issue a report on February 8, 2008. GAO Report.

GAO’s conclusions are vague. The GAO indicated confidence that iVotronic machines had the correct software code, and that the code did not induce machine failures. The GAO had no opinion on whether poor human factors played a factor in Sarasota. The end result is that 18,000 votes did not indicate a preference for either Florida candidate, and there was really no way for anyone to verify the right person was elected.

The iVotronic machine failures in Horry County underscores the need for a paper verification system.

To that end, State Senator Phil Leventis has introduced a Bill (S. 256) aimed at providing South Carolina voters some form of confirmation and verification their votes are being properly recorded. The Bill proposed by Senator Leventis amends the present voting law to add the following:
Beginning with the 2008 general election, an electronic voting machine must print out a receipt showing how the voter cast his vote that must be deposited in a receptacle by the voter, which only must be used to verify the vote at the polling place if there is a recount.
Because of the risk of human errors associated with electronic voting systems, coupled with the importance of accurate voting to a democracy, it makes sense for the State Legislature to enact Senator Leventis' Electronic Voting Bill immediately.

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