Our Electoral System Meltdown continues as more and more reports come in on epidemic Electronic Voting Machine failures around the country. It's neck and neck right now as Diebold and ES&S battle it out for the prize of Worst Company, Worst Service, Worst Technology and Best Excuse Maker. But we've got a long way to go in this Election Year, so it's still anyone's contest. (Anyone's but the voters, that is.)
A "glitch" --- that's the magical word that was used no less than three times in WOOD-TV's coverage --- in the Diebold optical-scan system used for the first time in Barry County, Michigan's election yesterday forced Elections Officials to count all ballots by hand. Since it was an optical-scan system --- which uses paper ballots --- they were able to do so. That would have been next to impossible had a similar disaster befallen a touch-screen system with "paper trails" and completely impossible on a paperless touch-screen machine.
All seemed fine throughout the day on Barry County's new voting machines until the optical scanner printed out the final results at the close of the election. The report was found to have had all matter of inexplicable totals including 0 votes for some candidates and no YES votes for any of the bond issues on the ballot.
The Barry County mess, as it's being reported by WOOD-TV, sounds almost identical to the situation in Leon County, FL last December where "hackers" had exploited a security vulnerability in Diebold's optical scanner memory card causing it to print results that were virtually the opposite of the true results on the paper ballots. The "hackers", who were computer security experts, had hidden all traces of their "crime" in that mock election test, so it would likely never have been discovered.
The problem affected 15 out of 16 townships in Barry County on machines which cost $4000 a piece and were purchased because County Officials claim the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) forced them to do so.
WOOD-TV covers the story, "glitch" after "glitch", with both text and a video reports. Here's a few details from their text report...
HASTINGS ? Barry County was all set for yesterday's election. New voting machines were installed and ready to go.
But they weren't.
A glitch in a computer program is believed to be the cause of a problem with the voting machines in Barry County. All of the ballots had to be counted by hand after county officials noticed the optical scan machines scrambled the results.
This glitch affected 15 of the 16 Barry County townships, including the city of Hastings. All the votes had to be hand-counted.
"In the first precinct that we looked at, one candidate got zero votes, but there were 90 write-ins out of 125 votes cast," he said. "Especially since the person who got zero votes was the person that I voted for, so I knew the zero was wrong."
In the Thornapple school board race, the computer had both candidates with zero votes, but the write-in total was 35.
"All of the printouts where there were any bond proposals showed a zero total for a yes vote," she said, "and it appears the actual votes cast as yes showed under the no total and the no total wasn't appearing on the tape anywhere."
The State of Michigan bought each $4000 machine for the county after federal law required a statewide standard for the way voters cast their ballots. Tuesday's election was the first time Barry County used these particular optical scan machines. The county had used a previous model before without having any problems. Why the printouts were scrambled remains a mystery.
"It would all be speculation at this point," Smith said, "whether the problem was with the actual ballot printing or with the memory card programming."
(Thanks to BRAD BLOG reader Bill L. for the tip!)