It is a fact that this primary season is proving to be a disaster.
The locomotives of the voting machine vendors and unwary, naive elections officials are headed down the same tracks, straight towards each other, in many states. The vendors only have the bags of government provided cash in sight and they don't seem to care about anything but putting those bags into their coffers. They don't seem to care about signing contracts that they know they cannot meet. They seem to be under the impression that "act now and apologize later" is good business. They seem to understand that the only criteria for getting paid for contracts with the government is having signed the contract.
As for the elections officials well, they are blinded by the lights of the fast approaching locomotive and many can only apologize and cover for the vendors. They just don't seem to know, or care --- or acknowledge that they either know or care --- that the same story is playing out in the next county over and in the next state over. Ignorance is supposed to be bliss, but it also spells chaos for elections.
But wait, all may not be lost. This past week we have seen a bit of progress toward stopping the chaos of ES&S in Indiana and Oregon, while West Virginia just doesn't seem to know or care what is happening to them. As well, New Jersey may be making headway against their bad acting vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems...
Indiana Investigates MicroVote and ES&S
MicroVote is a fairly unknown voting machine company outside of their home state of Indiana. If they continue with their lack of work ethic they soon won't be heard from in Indiana anymore either. Recently the state found that MicroVote had installed software uncertified by both the fed and the state in voting machines of 47 Indiana counties.
As reported by the WISH-TV I-Team, MicroVote management was invited to be sworn in and testify as to why they knowingly sold and installed uncertified software on the Infinity voting machines in those 47 counties. VoteTrustUSA reports that MicroVote has just now sent their software to a federal Independent Test Authority (ITA) to be tested and qualified for use. The state will then have to review the paperwork and certify the software for use in Indiana. All of this with less than two weeks before the Indiana primary.
In the meantime counties have been put into a position of having to make a choice. Do they use the potentially still-uncertified software or do they ignore federal and state law and simply not provide a voting system for voters with disabilities? Some counties are choosing to ignore state law and use the uncertified machines. Others will make that decision next week.
Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) is now reportedly "groveling" and apologizing to state officials for not having done any better in the state. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal some counties are still awaiting delivery of memory packs for the iVotronic Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. Thirteen of the memory packs received by Harrison County had mistakes in programming and needed to be returned. Meanwhile officials in other counties are inspecting and testing their machines and peripherals. In many cases those officials are not sure they can be ready. WTHR-TV relates:
"They" are ES&S, Election Systems and Software. While frontline personnel were busy checking PEB's (personal electronic ballots), their boss, John Groh, was groveling before Indiana's Secretary of State.
"In situations where we have not performed up to our own high expectations we apologize. Personally I apologize for that," Groh said at an informational meeting called by Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita.
"But apologies may not be enough for Rokita, who is considering levying fines against the Omaha, Nebraska company for delays and inaccuracies in their voting systems. It's already caused major problems in Johnson County where the county commissioners invested in 459 Ivotronic voting machines which were not ready for absentee voters on April 3. As a result, the county set up temporary voting booths.
"County Clerk Jackson is very concerned."I am not in the habit of missing statutory deadlines, but I feel like this was out of my control. I relied on the vendor to meet the deadlines when they sold us the service. They need to make sure they are not missing deadlines.""
Both MicroVote and ES&S face $300,000 fines for each violation of Indiana state election laws. One can only hope that the state protects the voters from unethical voting machine vendors like these two.
Summit County Ohio; the Poster Child For Equipment Failures
""One card is physically coming apart at the seams," said elections chief Bryan Williams. Also not working properly is the main ballot tabulator, called the election reporting manager or ERM. It's supposed to read the memory cards and report totals but has been dropping off dozens of races for Republican candidates for precinct committee members.
"The machines the county purchased to accommodate disabled voters also are having problems. Those machines are supposed to have a computer say candidates' names for voters but the names are being mispronounced, or the ballot is being misread or not read at all."
And what is the result for the county of all of these failures by ES&S? As reported earlier this week by the Akron Beacon-Journal:
"Summit County Board of Elections Director Bryan Williams is predicting Election Day failures with the memory cards in the county's new optical scan voting system.
"``I don't think we can assume anything else,'' Williams said at a meeting Tuesday, where the elections board reviewed the latest list of troubles."
It is amazing that ES&S has driven a county election official to say that he actually has no confidence in the elections in his county. It has actually gotten that bad.
Oregon's Secretary of State Sues ES&S For Breach of Contract
Bill Bradbury, Secretary of State of Oregon, has finally had his fill of ES&S and announced that he has filed, on behalf of the state, a lawsuit against ES&S for breach of contract for failure to deliver the electronic voting machines that would allow people with disabilities to vote privately and independently.
Oregon has contracted with ES&S for AutoMark voting machines to satisfy the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requirement for disabled-accessible voting. The contract terms were agreed to by all parties. Over six months later ES&S decided that they wanted to change the terms of the contract. The state would not agree to these changes so ES&S told them they would not deliver.
In a statement Secretary Bradbury said:
In the meantime the state has decided to use telephone voting for their disabled voters. This is the same system that has been used successfully in Vermont.
West Virginia Secretary of State Makes Excuses for ES&S
Early voting for the primary began in West Virginia this past week. Many of the state's counties were only able to put out paper ballots because ES&S has failed to provide programming for their voting machines. These machines were supposed to be used to meet the state's HAVA obligation. West Virginia counties are now afraid that the U.S. Department of Justice may take action because they are not compliant. Voters with disabilities are being asked to 'bring a friend' if they come to the polls to vote early according to the Charleston Daily Mail. The disabled-voting provisions in HAVA, of course, were theoretically to allow disabled voters to vote by themselves for the first time.
Meanwhile WV Secretary of State Betty Ireland issued a press release --- which at times sounded like a press release issued on behalf of ES&S --- which says, in part:
"Sometimes this can happen when sweeping federal legislation affects all 50 states," Ireland said in the release. "We understand that ES&S is working hard to meet the demands of all its customers. But we still intend to get what we paid for."
In fact, ES&S knew what they were doing as they grabbed every possible opportunity to sign a contract with yet another customer. They completely ignored the fact that they would have actually have to provide service to those customers who they'd promised to service. And now they expect everyone to look the other way as they stumble into another election year unable to do so. With the good PR work from officials like Ireland they might just get away with it, but not until after our elections are affected negatively.
Sequoia Voting Systems Has Problems In New Jersey
The Local Source.Com reported on Wednesday that officials in Essex County New Jersey are concerned that they have not received the voting machines from Sequoia Voting Systems that the company was under contract to deliver. The county is short over 600 Advantage DRE machines and there are only 8 weeks until the state primary election. In a discussion between County Freeholders and Sequoia, the possibility of legal action has now been broached. Sequoia also still owes machines to Monmouth and Passaic Counties.
Interestingly this meeting took place after the county had voted in favor of two contracts totaling over $107,000 for printer cartridges for the machines. But what about those voter verified paper audit trail (vvpat) printers?
New Jersey law requires that all voting machines used in the state must provide a vvpat by January 1, 2008. On Friday, Assignment Judge Linda Feinberg ruled:
"Feinberg also said the state may have "grossly underestimated" the cost of replacing or retrofitting the Sequoia AVC Advantage machines. The state pegged the expense at $21 million, said the judge, who heard testimony last month."
The Judge's findings now go to a state appeals court, which is trying to gauge whether these machines are so unreliable that they violate voters' constitutional rights. The panel asked Feinberg to determine if the advent of paper audit trails would render the issue moot.
It appears to be clear that Sequoia may have taken a bit too big a bite of the apple and may end up choking on that bite. Time will tell how much chaos will ensue in New Jersey's elections.
Enjoy the ride until next week...
UPDATE: For the latest in the 'Train Wreck' series, "Investigations and Problems Continue to Spread", April 30, go here.