With Elections Impending Next Week, Company Downplays, Hides Failure Rate
Will The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Take Action?...
By John Gideon on 11/4/2007, 12:35pm PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon, VotersUnite.Org

Saturday's Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that Diebold Election Systems, now having renamed itself Premier Election Solutions, has admitted that some of its 25,000 optical scan voting machines used in Florida and elsewhere across the nation may have a problem that causes memory card failures during elections.

As we would expect, Florida election officials and Diebold/Premier have downplayed the problem as they say that the problem does not threaten the integrity of U.S. elections. However, the Volusia County, FL Supervisor of Elections, Ann McFall, said [emphasis ours], "I don't think votes are lost". Her office has also admitted that the problem has caused problems and adds to the cost of elections.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has yet to take action on this matter, despite impending elections, the commission's statutory mission as the oversight body for certification of electronic voting systems their mandated mission to be a "national clearinghouse" for information on them and two GAO reports critical of their failure to do any of the above. If they follow previous patterns, they will do absolutely nothing to alert other states and counties who use the same system, about this problem.

Diebold/Premier, of course, and again, is attempting to downplay the severity of their failures in Florida and refusing to release their own information gathered on it, characterizing the true extent of the failure as "proprietary business information"...

In Volusia County during the November 2006 election, 11 of 249 optical scan memory cards had to be replaced, according to a county report. In Flagler County, one of 51 cards failed.

Diebold officials said the 4.4 percent error rate in Volusia was unusual, that the average was about 1 percent. The company conducted a survey of 27 Florida counties that use its machines but refused to release the results, calling them "proprietary business information."

But because the News-Journal could not get the percentages from Diebold/Premier, they submitted public records requests to all counties affected and found the results were not quite as rosy as the company would have us believe...

The resulting reports, from 17 of the 27 counties, show two counties with over 9 percent memory card failure rate and some counties with zero. The average failure rate is 2.8 percent; nearly three times what Diebold/Premier is admitting publicly.

True to form the company is attempting to characterize their latest discovered failure as the fault of election workers as opposed to their own bad design and cut-rate workmanship.

"The company offered several explanations for the damage, including improper cleaning, foreign objects and improper memory card removal or insertion," reports the News Journal.

Florida counties are preparing for an election next week, as are states and counties across the nation. Will the state require any extra assurance that votes are being counted accurately on Diebold/Premier's optical-scan voting machines? That's not in the "cards" apparently. So are they planning anything extra to insure their machines don't fail in this election? No. Of course not. They are going to inspect the machines next January instead.

What about the same machines used across the U.S.? Well Diebold/Premier spokesman, Christopher Riggal gave this reassuring comment: "We will address any card-failure issues with our customers in other states on a case-by-case basis."

In other words, if someone says something, we will do something, but in the mean time we are going to ignore the problem by doing nothing everywhere else and hope no one notices. After all, what's 2.8% of the vote in an election between friends, eh?

The EAC, of course, is supposed to have oversight over the voting machine vendors and the use and certification of voting systems in the U.S. This reporter has sent an email to the commission asking that they consider informing other states and counties who use the exact same equipment, from the exact same company, that they may have the exact same problem with memory card problems on their voting systems...

So, here we are again with a locally reported voting machine failure that affects voting machines nationally. Every county that uses these machines in upcoming elections should be doing a hand-count audit to ensure all votes have been accurately counted. Every county that uses these machines should be warned of the problem at the very least and should be warned about proper cleaning and proper insertion and removal of the memory cards. [Diebold/Premier] should be inspecting every machine that is in question across the country; not just Florida. Who is going to do that? Who is mandated to be the "clearinghouse" on voting systems information?

I know the response will be that the EAC did not certify those machines so the EAC cannot take any action. If the EAC takes no action; who will? You are the "clearinghouse". Pass on the information to the rest of the nation that there is a problem. Suggest those who are affected contact their [Diebold/Premier] representative and have their machines inspected and repaired, if necessary.

The News-Journal also notes that "In August, the Florida Department of State, Division of Elections sent out a notice to county supervisors of elections who use the Diebold Inc. voting system advising enhanced security procedures to limit access and possible exploitation of optical scan memory cards --- which are not encrypted, authenticated or protected. The advisory was sent after Florida State University experts found potential security compromises with Diebold's voting system."

As far as we know, the EAC has also failed to notify the rest of the states around the country about that problem as well. Just as they failed to do after The BRAD BLOG reported exclusively (unfortunately) last April, that a vulnerability was discovered in ES&S touch-screen voting systems by scientists in Florida. The security hole, the scientists said, could allow a virus to be inserted onto those machines, allowing an entire county election to be flipped undetectably. 16 other states use the same systems, but were not alerted by the EAC.

In a 2005 report [PDF] critical of the EAC, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the commission's failure to serve as "a national clearinghouse for voting system problems means that segments of the election community may continue to acquire and operate their systems without benefit of critical information learned by others regarding the security and reliability of those systems."

In a follow-up report in 2006, the GAO noted that the EAC has still failed to set up any such system "to collect and disseminate information on problems and vulnerabilities that are identified by voting system vendors and independent groups outside of the national certification process."

We will, of course, let you know of any substantive response from the EAC to our query, should we happen to get one. But with elections across the country coming up this Tuesday, we felt it best to take action and get the word out.

Unlike, apparently, the EAC.