Report Done For Cuyahoga Co. Ohio Finds The System May Be Unrepairable Before Nov. 2008
By John Gideon on 8/16/2006, 11:03am PT  

Election Science Institute (ESI), a San Francisco based non-profit, was contracted for $341,000 to do a complete study of the May 2 primary in Cuyahoga (Cleveland) County. The study was just released to the public and it is another scathing report against Diebold and their voting machines.

Ohio requires a voter verified paper audit trail printer on every Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that ESI found:

Nearly 10 percent of Cuyahoga County's official ballots in the May 2 primary were "destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised," according to experts who studied the county's new electronic voting system.

ESI did a manual count of the paper ballots in order to validate the accuracy of the election day vote tabulations:

Manual Count of Paper Ballots
Key Finding: VVPAT’s were missing, missing information and the tally of the individual ballots did not always match the VVPAT summary printed at the end of Election Day.

In order to validate the accuracy of Election Day vote tabulations by the Cuyahoga County BOE Diebold voting system, ESI conducted a manual count of the VVPAT paper ballots. Using a recount fixture that allowed for viewing the tapes without handling them, a team of election officials, booth workers and students tallied the votes for governor on each tape. The paper ballot tallies were initially compared to the results report printed on the VVPAT tapes. When the count did not match the count provided by the results report, the paper ballots were recounted.

• 85% of the VVPAT Ballots and VVPAT Summaries reconciled after the primary manual count, where approximately 15% required a secondary count
• 1.4% of the VVPAT cartridges exhibited missing ballots.
• 16.9 % of VVPAT tapes showed a discrepancy of 1 - 5 votes between the tally of ballots and the results report; 2.1 % showed a discrepancy of over 25 votes.
• During the manual recount, team members discovered 40 VVPAT tapes (9.66%) that were either destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised.
• Identifying information on the VVPAT tape such as precinct information and machine identification was inconsistent, as were the summary reports printed at the end of the day. 2.8% of the VVPATs were missing machine ID numbers; 5.4% did not identify the precinct, increasing the difficulty of a meaningful
audit and raising questions about the integrity of the vote count.
• VVAPTs showed evidence of booth workers using trial and error to print reports and start up or close down the machines; workers apparently attempted to overcome printer problems by shutting down machines, removing and replacing cards, and restarting machines.
• 72% of the labels identifying cannisters containing the VVPAT tapes were missing information. 46% of the canister labels were blank.
• Booth workers frequently failed to sign the tapes. Such failures in chain of custody also increase the risk of a legal challenge.

While many of the manual count problems were human error problems, there was enough error from the machines that the human errors were overshadowed. That is, unless you are a Diebold representative or a member of the Secretary of State's staff, and you have to try to paint this picture as something other than a voting system issue. The Columbus Dispatch reported:

But Diebold spokesman Mark Radke argued that ESI did not account for improperly handled memory cards or include all votes cast in the election, such as from 17-year-olds who can vote for candidates but not issues. He said the conclusions "simply are wrong."

"The discrepancies they found were not discrepancies," Radke said, arguing that the same system has been used without problems in other Ohio counties and many other states.

Blackwell spokesman James Lee blamed inadequate training of poll workers in Cuyahoga County, noting that the machines were exhaustively tested before they were deployed.

"No matter what system is used, if there is not proper training and adherence to procedures, there are going to be problems," he said.

Still, the study concluded that its review showed the problems uncovered in Cuyahoga County are "systemic and therefore faced by other counties nationally and across Ohio."

In a letter to the county that is at the beginning of the ESI report ESI President Steven Hertzberg says in part:

Also on behalf of the ESI team, I believe it is important to say directly to you that the current election system appears to provide some of its promised benefits at potentially great cost; namely, that the election system, in its entirety, exhibits shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of a close election. These shortcomings merit your urgent attention. Relying on this system in its present state should be viewed as a calculated risk in which the outcome may be an acceptable election, but there is a heightened risk of unacceptable cost.

While the challenges facing Cuyahoga County’s election system are considerable—time, resources, and the will to do the difficult work that is needed—ESI remains confident that the most significant constraint for election system improvement is the will to achieve meaningful improvement in the election system. With the cooperation of the voting system vendor, public officials, the public and the media, the serious issues uncovered during this investigation can be addressed employing widely used management science methods and process improvement techniques.

As I mentioned when I stood before you in late April, prior to the Primary Election, meaningful improvements can be achieved but are not likely [to] be complete before the November 2006 or November 2008 general elections.

November 2008? Yes, that's right. Apparently the county, and city of Cleveland, will continue to hold elections on machines that don't work properly and with procedures that don't work and it my take them over two years to clean up a mess that was only a few months in the making. Remember that it was only within the last year that Cuyahoga County brought in these machines. The county and Diebold are telling the voters that they don't care about the voters as long as their collective egos are salved. Pity!