South Carolina Voting Machines: worst in the United States?

Probably.  There is a of evidence that we do have the worst electronic voting machines in the country: other states have banned them,  The SC Election Commission wants to buy the used and banned machines, and the things don’t even leave a paper trail. The Commission is either out to lunch or in bed with the vendor.

Congresses General Accounting Office released a report on severe lapses in the federal oversight of voting machines. In light of the slack attitude of the SC Election Commission spokesperson Baum, the poor reputation of its machines, and the lack of federal oversight, South Carolina voters should be really concerned about protecting their ballots.

“Other states have had problems, which have led to questions about our system,” [South Carolina Election Commission spokesman Gary] Baum said. “But things that apply to other states don’t apply to South Carolina.”

Unless South Carolina provides an error free environment, Baum’s words aren’t encouraging.  The lack of concern is worrisome, but would be less so if the Feds were on the case.  A GAO report relased at the end of September shows that they are not.

The GAO found that the Electronic Assistance Commission has not defined an effective approach to testing and certifying voting systems, consequently hasn’t followed any consistent approach to systems over time and has no mechanism for developing better approaches for the 2008 election:  Federal Program for Certifying Voting Systems Needs to Be Further Defined, Fully Implemented, and Expanded. Government Accounting Office. September 20, 2008 http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-814

The EAC hasn’t tracked the problems and hasn’t notified state electoral commissions of the problems.  SC Electoral Commission (SCEC) spokesman Baum indicates that he is aware of problems with South Carolina’s iVotronic voting machines, but his attitude shows that he’s taking his lead from ES&S’s defense.   But there is a lot to be concerned about.  The GAO found that Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin have had significant voting problems that have not been addressed since the last election.

Ohio, Florida and California have all dumped expensive electronic voting systems experiences and audits of the 2006 elections convinced them that the machines are unreliable, insufficiently secure, and open to manipulation.  As a result of these reports, states began to replace their touch-screen machines and returned to machines that produce paper receipts for traceable results. Links to news articles and reports that compelled these states to make the switch are found at the bottom of this post.

South Carolina already has some of the most questionable electronic voting machines on the market, and the SCEC is sticking with them.  In fact, in the same interview in which he said “things that apply in other states don’t apply in South Carolina” SC Election Commissioner Baum said he was looking at purchasing some of Florida’s dumped machines.

The SC Electoral Commission website doesn’t name the voting machines they purchased , but is possible to figure out from a ES&S flash video on the SCEC site that South Carolinians vote on ES&S iVotronics. The build of the iVotronic software isn’t publicized, but a recent version used in Ohio was found to be hackable by hand held Treo devices.

The electronic machines are also vulnerable through tainted memory cards, although again, SC Election Commission personnel don’t think so.

“They are computers, and anybody who has a computer knows they are subject to intrusion,” [Spartanburg County Director of Registration and Elections Henry] Laye said. “But they are not hooked up to the Internet, and they are standalone units.”

The machines may not be connected to the internet, but they do use memory cards, as does Diebold, which a 2006 Princeton technical study found to be easily hackable.  AP ran a story on the same topic called “Who’s Counting: Hacking Diebold Voting Machines, Mathematician John Allen Paulos Examines the Questions Raised About Some Voting Systems.” by John Allen Paulos on October 1, 2006.  Laye is taking ES&S’ marketing line, without justification given the findings of researchers working for more curious state electoral commissions.

Even if SC’s software was certified by the EAC, there is no requirement for states to actually run certified software. The EAC doesn’t track the changes in software to see when they go out of certification, either. (GAO report, page 4). Given Baum’s blase attitude, there’ no reason to presume the Electoral Commission is using federally certified software.

ES&S’ consistent response to mistakes with it machines in elections is to blame the poll workers.  This begs the question, are the machines too complicated for reliable set-up and use?  Don’t the fixes and updates to the voting software introduce new complexities and opportunites for mistakes and manipulation?  If the stuff is just inherently buggy, why not go back to a verifiable paper ballot?

How buggy is it? The Voters Unite Project collected a 51 page list of errors with ES&S voting machines in the period of 2004 through 2006.  IVotronic systems appear on the list 46 times. I’ve made a table of these occurances at the bottom of this post.

SC Electoral Commissioner Baum must be aware of these problems, especially if he is going to buy the rejected Florida machines in a fire sale.  To suggest that the machine deficiencies will not travel over the SC border is dishonest at worst, and insulting to SC voters at best.

The real reason for keeping the machines, and indeed buying more of them, is probably cost.  Electronic voting machines are very expensive.   Spartanburg County alone bought 694 machines in time for the 2004 election, costing $ 3,500 each or at least $2,400,000 in total for this county alone.    South Carolina has 46 counties.  Most are smaller than Spartanburg, so a low estimate of the statewide cost would be at least $35,000,000 for only 10,000 machines.  Service contracts with ES&S may or may not be included in that estimated cost per machine.

Baum may be right about one thing being different in SC: unlike Florida, SC can’t afford to admit its mistakes.

Recent general news stories:

Company admits voting machine error [Premier Election Solutions Inc touch screen machines]. USA Today. AP. August 21, 2008.

Record number of U.S. voters may cast paper ballots. Times Online. By Allison Hoffman, Associated Press Writer Published: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 10:10 PM EDT

Vote machine flaws force scramble back to paper. With electronic systems at risk, some states return to scanning ballots. updated 3:46 p.m. ET, Mon., Dec. 31, 2007

South Carolina:
State bucks trend, keeps touch-screen voting machines: S.C. election officials have faith in systems. Spartanburg Herald Journal. By Robert W. Dalton. bob.dalton@shj.com. Published: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 3:15 a.m. Last Modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 9:49 a.m.

Voting Chaos Again. [ES&S iVotronic failures in 2008 South Carolina Republican Primary] UK Independent online blogs. By Leonard Doyle. January 19, 2008.

S.C. to use voting machines banned in other states. Charleston News & Courier. Associated Press. Monday, January 7, 2008

South Carolina Electoral Commission: http://scvotes.org/
The SCEC’s only mention of the voting system is in this URL:  http://www.scvotes.org/voting_system/2006/05/03/iVotronic_flash_demo (the demo itself may not be functional)

It doesn’t seem like any of the news stories even mention the Horry County debacle of only 8 months ago this Google news search. This is the subject of the UK Independent post above.

Ohio:
Ohio Report Reveals Voting Machine Weaknesses [Voting machines of ES&S, Diebold, Hart InterCivic, and Premeire Election Systems]. by Kirsten Anderson. Huffingtonpost.com. Posted December 18, 2007 | 12:32 AM (EST)

Florida:
News article on ES&S on the kinds of problems that influenced Florida to switch from all-electronic voting.

2007 St. Petersburg Times article on ES&S:
Top vote-machine maker also tops complaint list: Vendor discounts woes, blames poll workers.”
By ANITA KUMAR. St. Petersburg Times. Published May 27, 2007

Report slaps Florida’s provisional voting record. Olando Sentinel blog. posted by Aaron Deslatte on Sep 24, 2008 9:54:01 AM

The FSU report on the ES&S iVotronic used in Sarasota County [analysis of longer report linked below.]. Avi Rubin’s Blog. Friday, March 09, 2007.

Arkansas:

iVotronic E-Voting Machines Give Results for a Non-Existent Race: It turns out the VVPAT may NOT be useless; but the electronic totals are. [11% failure rate in June 2008 Arkansas election]. Voters Unite. By Ellen Theisen. June 2, 2008

General technical reports on electronic voting:

Software Review and Security Analysis of the ES&S iVotronic. 8.0.1.2 Voting Machine Firmware. Security and Assurance in Information Technology Laboratory. Florida State University. Tallahassee, Florida. February 23, 2007: Discussed on the SAIT website here: http://www.sait.fsu.edu/news/2007-03-05-essr.shtml. Full technical report found here (large PDF file).

Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting MachineAriel J. Feldman, J. Alex Halderman, and Edward W. Felten. Center for Information Technology Policy. Princeton University.  September 13, 2006

AP ran a story on the same topic called “Who’s Counting: Hacking Diebold Voting Machines, Mathematician John Allen Paulos Examines the Questions Raised About Some Voting Systems.” by John Allen Paulos on October 1, 2006.

Southern Studies overview of all 4 major systems here: http://www.southernstudies.org/reports/votingmachines-new.htm

ES&S iVotronic problems from 2004 – 2006:

The Voters Unite has collected a list of documented errors with ES&S voting machines from 2004 through 2006, including references.  The report runs to 51 pages and covers all the voting systems sold by ES&S, including the iVotronic system.   The full report can be found here: http://www.votersunite.org/info/ES&Sinthenews.pdf

Date ES&S System Location. Brief description
November 2000 iVotronic Pulaski County, Arkansas 24+ voters report screen registered wrong choice.
February 2002 ES&S Arkansas Secretary of State Bill McCuen pleaded guilty to felony charges that he took bribes, evaded taxes and accepted kickbacks. Part of the case involved Business Records Corp. [now merged into Election Systems & Software ], a Dallas company that sold Arkansas computerized systems for recording corporate and voter registration records.
April 2002 iVotronic Miami-Dade County, Florida. Technician reorders ballot during voting.
April 2002 Optical Scan and iVotronic Dallas County, Texas. A ballot programming error tallies 18 results incorrectly. Here is one case when flawed ballot data on a paperless electronic voting machine caused a serious election miscount. It was detected only because voters also used optical scan paper ballots in the election.
September 2002 iVotronic DRE firmware 7.2.5 Miami-Dade County, Florida. An analysis of the September election by the Florida ACLU determined that 8.2% of the votes were “lost” in 31 problem precincts. Significantly more votes were lost in predominantly black areas.
October 2002 iVotronic DRE Dallas County, Texas. Machines register incorrect choices on the screen. 21
November 2002 iVotronic DRE Broward County, Florida. A software error caused 103,222 (22%) votes cast on ES&S iVotronic paperless voting machines not to be counted in the initial tally.
November 2002 iVotronic DRE firmware 6.2.0.1 Wake County, North Carolina. Machines lost 436 ballots in early voting.
November 2002 iVotronic Broward County, Florida. Machines register votes for opponents.
Fall 2003 Votronic Guilford County, North Carolina. Votronic voting machines lose 354 ballots.
November 2003 iVotronic Louisiana. Tom Eschberger admits making campaign contributions to a potential customer.
January 2004 iVotronic DRE firmware 7.4.5 Broward County, Florida. Machines showed 134 blank ballots. The winning margin was 12 votes. Since Florida law required an examination of the invalid ballots, and no ballots were available to examine, the county could not comply with Florida law.
March 2004 iVotronic Sarasota County, Florida. According to the county Board of Elections, the votes of 189 people were never counted, but the County Commissioners are content.
March 2004 iVotronic uncertified firmware 7.4.5; certified, flawed firmware 6.1.2 Indiana – four counties. It was discovered that ES&S had installed an uncertified version of firmware in the iVotronics in four counties. When confronted, representatives agreed to reinstall the certified version. Then it was determined that the certified version doesn’t tabulate the votescorrectly, so the county allowed the use of the uncertified version but required ES&S to put up a $10 Million bond to insure against problems and lawsuits.
April 2004 iVotronic Indiana. Specifically in response to the unethical behavior of ES&S, the Indiana state legislature passed a law providing penalties for voting machine vendors who act on their own initiative without the permission of the state.
May 2004 iVotronic firmware 7.5.1 and 7.4.5 Miami-Dade County, Florida. Information provided to the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel meeting on April 22, 2004 brought to light serious audit problems with the iVotronic.
May 2004 iVotronic Miami-Dade, Florida. Another memo surfaces, this one regarding an election in Homestead in October 2003.
May 2004 iVotronic Indiana. ES&S employee resigns from ES&S after telling Indiana county clerk about the software switch.
May 2004 iVotronic South Carolina. After ES&S won the bid to install the state’s voting systems, a local company challenged the decision. During the process of evaluating the bid, the state’s chief procurement officer said that a new round of bidding was needed since ES&S had provided a deflated bid.
July 2004 Unity election management software All U.S. Counties that use ES&S voting systems. More and more bugs surface in the ES&S software, but only in response to public records requests.
August 2004 iVotronic Miami-Dade County, Florida. The iVotronic touch-screen machines — the ones with the software bugs that caused an uproar last May — showed evidence of the same problems in the August primary. Not only was the low battery problem (which ES&S claimed was repaired) still impacting the elections, problems also showed up with the features that are supposed to allow blind voters to vote independently.
October2004 iVotronic Craven County, North Carolina. Voters’ choices register incorrectly on the touch screen.
October 2004 iVotronic Bexar County, Texas. Touch screens register votes incorrectly on the screen.
November2004 iVotronic Broward County, Florida. Fifty voters waited for hours to vote early, but then they were turned away because the paperless electronic voting machines at the site malfunctioned.
November 2004 Votronic Craven County, North Carolina. All vote totals in nine of the county’s 26 precincts were electronically doubled. Correcting the mistake changed the outcome of at least one race.
November 2004 iVotronic Lexington County, South Carolina. Officials can’t figure out how to retrieve 200 electronic votes from a malfunctioning iVotronic electronic voting machine. Lexington town leaders criticize slow vote count. The State. November 4, 2004. By Tim Flach, Staff Writer.
November 2004 iVotronic LaPorte County, Indiana. The electronic voting machines reported 300 votes in every precinct, eliminating over 50,000 voters.
November 2004 iVotronic Broward County, Florida. In addition to severe mix-ups in polling places (some of which were moved at the last minute) and disenfranchisement of voters who cast invalid provisional ballots because of the mix-up, Broward County experienced many electronic voting machine malfunctions. Some broke down, others registered votes incorrectly.
November 2004 iVotronic Mahoning County. Many problems plagued the ES&S iVotronic touch screen voting machines in 16 of the 312 Mahoning County precincts.
November 2004 iVotronic Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Phantom votes appear in the electronic totals … and other troubles.
March 2005 iVotronic Miami-Dade, Florida. A computer error failed to count votes during the March 8 special election, calling into question five other local elections.80
March 2005 iVotronic Broward County, Florida. One of the two items on the March 8 ballot failed to appear on the screen for many of the voters who participated in the Parallel Election Project.
April 2005 iVotronic Kershaw, South Carolina. Initial results for the County Council seat showed 2440 phantom votes — 3208 votes, 768 voters. The corrected results overturned the Democratic primary. Counting error overstates votes. [see article in The State. April 29, 2005. By Kristy Eppley Rupon.]
May 2005 iVotronic Charleston, South Carolina. Software problems cropped up on the new ES&S touch screen machines. New Voting Machines. [ See article on ABCNews4.com. May 5, 2004. By: NeYama Duncan]. (see also.)
May 2005 iVotronic Miami-Dade, Florida. New evidence shows both phantom votes and lost votes in the November election. The number of voters reported by election workers didn’t match the number of ballots cast in 260 (35%) of Miami-Dade’s 749 polling places. Some showed more votes than voters (“phantom votes”); others showed significantly more voters than ballots cast.
March 2006 iVotronic V9.1.2.0 Chatham County, North Carolina. Early Voters get Wrong Ballot.
May 2006 IVotronic with Optech Eagle Jackson County, Indiana New ES&S voting machine equipment is not interfacing with older models, forcing workers to manually count votes in each machine in each precinct.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanners Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Unofficial tallies differ by nearly 6,000 votes from official ballot counts. Candidates are considering calling for recounts.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanners Mahoning County, Ohio. May 2 primary elections encountered many problems, including poor training and malfunctioning equipment.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanner Arkansas. Voting machine malfunctions in three counties affect 10,000 voters. Touch screens fail and ES&S mis-programs ballots.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanner Arkansas. 12 counties report problems in tabulating ballots from their electronic vote machines.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanner Benton County, Arkansas. Lack of training by ES&S caused problems on the iVotronics.
May 2006 iVotronic and optical scanner Washington County, Arkasas. Untrained poll workers had to bring the new iVotronics to the courthouse to be shut down.
May 2006 Optech Eagles, Unity Election Management System, iVotronic printers Pulaski County, Arkansas. ES&S election software malfunctions, and ES&S programmed the ballots incorrectly.
June 2006 iVotronic White County, Arkansas. Flaws in the ballot programming furnished by ES&S are only one of the problems that made the runoff election “a royal mess.”
June 2006 iVotronic Horry County, South Carolina. Problems occurred in 13 precincts. Gilland regains Horry chair. [via The Sun News. June 14, 2006. article by Travis Tritten.]
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