State Officials Blame 'Human Error' of State Officials Who Performed Tests in the State's Official Testing...
...While County Commissioners Make Plans to Scrap Their $4.5 Million Dollar Touch-Screen System...
By Brad Friedman on 11/29/2006, 1:11pm PT  

Yesterday Sarasota County, FL, began their state-run test audits of the paperless ES&S touch-screen systems used in Florida's 13th District House race where 18,000 votes disappeared, resulting in a 369 vote margin between Christine Jennings (D) and Vern Buchanan (R) to fill the seat vacated by former Secretary of State of Katherine Harris.

The first day of testing revealed miscounting errors on all four of the machines used during the test, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and at least two citizen observers who blogged their account of the day's testing.

State officials who convened the panel blamed the miscounting on...wait for it...human error!

Of course they did. The panel itself has already been plagued with controversy after Election Integrity organizations criticized the selection of several members assigned to the commission, including the very partisan Alec Yasinsac, who appeared on the steps of Florida Supreme Court in 2000 wearing a "Bush Won" button, and David Drury, the state official who certified these particular systems in the first place for the state of Florida, declaring them safe and accurate for use in an election.

The first day of testing employed machines that were not actually used in the November 7th election (Friday's testing will include machines actually used that day) and were not performed under normal voting conditions (e.g., the machines were hung from the wall, instead of placed on stands to approximate the height they would be for most voters --- important, since these machines tend to register votes differently for tall voters than they do for other voters.)

Nonetheless, errors in the counting were registered by all of the machines used in testing. The results differed from the votes in "scripted" ballots that state testers had punched into them. Ironically, the errors ended up giving Jennings a higher vote total than she should have had according to the prepared voting scripts.

The Herald-Trib --- who, by the way, has reinstated its FL-13 Special Coverage page since we pointed out its removal a few days ago --- is reporting today that, "All four voting machines that officials used to simulate the Nov. 7 election had miscounts, and three of them had miscounts in the District 13 race."

A diarist over at DailyKos who has been on-site, covering the day-by-day details of the goings-on --- and who has a user name we well approve of --- "BeTheMedia" describes yesterday's results this way:

Some testers required two or three attempts to get a touch to register on the screen. Some appeared to have one in every three attempts to register a touch fail. So, even practiced test voters are having trouble with the touchscreens during the "audit." Not a good sign.
...
While today's procedure may have tested for a narrow range of possibilities, it failed to test broadly for a wider range of possibilities that could have been revealed by more rigorous and thorough testing. It is valid and reasonable for testing to try to make a system fail. That's what thorough testing is supposed to do.

The tests today did indeed revealed discrepancies. At least three votes recorded as undervotes in the election changed to Jennings votes in today's "audit." That's comes out to an approximate 7% shift in a race decided by less than two-tenths of one percent. It will be quite interesting to see how the State Division of Elections explains this shift.

And, of course, it is interesting to see how the State explained the shift, though their explanation is no longer much of a suprise...

Secretary of State Sue Cobb's reliable spokesliar and Buchanan's attorney both downplayed the problems as expected, pulling out the old "human error" explanation employed frequently in the wake of any such revelations of failures in electronic voting systems:

Of the 251 ballots cast, five additional votes were counted for Jennings, including three extra votes in one precinct. There were also miscounts in five other races.

"Most likely it's human error," said Jenny Nash, spokesperson for the State Division of Elections.

Representatives for both Jennings and Buchanan said Tuesday's results support their original contentions.

"They said beforehand in all likelihood there would be human error," said Buchanan lawyer Hayden Dempsey.

Jennings spokeswoman Kathy Vermazen said she found the results "intriguing."

Jeannie Dean, a District 13 citizen who has been on hand as well to witness much of the brouhaha since the election, took glee in yesterday's flawed results in light of Buchanan's attorney's initial attempts at "information control" earlier in the day:

Today's State n' Egg-on-Face routine makes Hayden Demsey, council for the Buchanan campaign as well as Bush's lead attorney in 2000, WRONG again. At an 11:30 am press conference he asserted, "If there were truly a 15% error rate, as the Jennings' camp has claimed, it would have already shown up. We've had half a day of voting....we would have seen it by now. The machines are testing exactly as we expected, which shows that they worked on election day...there was no error rate..."

Jennings, who we previously described as a role-model for all candidates in her fight to assure the voter's voices are actually heard and heard accurately, continues to win our respect. She tells the Herald-Trib today that she's in for the long haul: "This could go on for months, and I'm prepared for that," she said. "I will never give up."

Hear, hear. Neither will we, Christine. And thank you again.

In the meantime, in direct contradiction of the wishes of SoS Cobb and Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections, Kathy Dent (neither of whom have yet resigned), the County's Board of Commissioners are readying plans to scrap their entire $4.5 million touch-screen system in the wake of the controversy and, more importantly, at the mandate of the voters who decided in favor of a paper ballot system (ironically enough) by approving an initiative for it on the November 7th ballot. The county's 1600 machines, purchased just five years ago, would be trashed (or sold to unsuspecting suckers elsewhere) in the bargain.

But, of course, Cobb and Dent are again fighting to thwart the will of the very voters they are supposed to be serving. As reported by the Herald-Tribune in another piece today...

The county’s switch to a paper trail system must clear at least one legal challenge: a lawsuit by the secretary of state, the county and Dent seeking to overturn the voter-imposed requirement.