Election Watch Dogs Warn Equipment Could Lose Votes; Precautions Must Be Taken

Susan Greenhalgh, (917) 796-8782

Mary Boyle, (202) 736-5770

Today, three voting rights watch dog groups, the Brennan Center, Verified Voting, and Common Cause released an advisory to election officials warning that voting systems in specific states may not total votes correctly if proper procedures are not followed, and stressing that all vote totaling should be manually checked. The warning cited an August 19, 2008 product advisory notice issued by Premier voting systems, formerly Diebold, which acknowledged that the voting system does not always aggregate machine totals correctly when it is compiling votes from multiple polling locations.

“What this means is that votes are intact in the machines, but when they are all compiled by the Premier tabulator at the county level, a number of them may be lost.” said Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause. “To guard against this loss, election officials must manually check the math of the central tabulators by adding up the precinct votes themselves with a calculator.”

The defect may be in place in as many as 31 states that use Premier voting systems in some or all of their counties. The states include AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NH, OH, PA, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI and WY. All of these states use the Premier equipment, but the product advisory from Premier indicated that states which use GEMS tabulator versions 1.20.2 and earlier are definitely vulnerable to the flaw.

Officials in Butler County, Ohio, raised the problem with the Premier equipment when 150 votes from a memory card were dropped following the March primary earlier this year. Eight other Ohio counties experienced the same problem during the March primary. Fortunately, no votes were irretrievably lost in any of these counties because election officials caught the error before the primary results were finalized. However, the Ohio Secretary of State is suing Premier for breach of contract related to these events.

In August of this year, Premier issued a Product Advisory Notice outlining the major defect. According to the advisory issued by Premier:

“Premier Election Solutions has determined that a sharing violation may occur in the GEMS poster during simultaneous uploading of results from multiple memory cards resulting in the contents of the affected memory card(s) not being posted to GEMS. Note that in this situation, the AVServer console will indicate the affected upload of memory card(s) has been successful, (green arrow), when the upload has not, in fact, been successful.”

The advisory letter recommended certain procedures election officials could take to guard against the loss of votes. It also recommended that election officials engage in a rigorous post election reconciliation process as part of the canvass.

“This is a solvable problem, but if it is ignored, it could have a huge impact on the number of votes that are counted. Every vote matters. When our equipment is known to malfunction, election officials really must step in and make sure they are doing everything they can to verify electronic totals.” said Larry Norden, Director of the Voting Technology Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Thorough ballot reconciliation practices will catch these kinds of errors and restore integrity to the process.”

The organizations caution that all jurisdictions should manually reconcile the aggregated totals and check the results to ensure they have been compiled correctly, noting that errors were found in a results report from the September 9, Washington, D.C primary. Sequoia Voting Systems supplied the equipment that generated the erroneous report which included 1500 invalid, “phantom” votes. The D.C. city council is still investigating.

“These steps are part of best practices for any voting system,” cautioned Pamela Smith, President of Verified Voting Foundation. “Although this problem has been identified in one particular system, it doesn’t mean it may not affect others, so adhering to these safeguards – and carrying out post-election audits where possible – will go a long way to preventing and resolving problems.”

The letter can be found here: http://www.commoncause.org/advisoryletter