Hundreds of Lost Ballots, Illegal Voting System, and the Boondoggle Behind Billions of Federal Dollars Spent on Voting Machines That Don't Work All Illustrated by Simple Citizen Oversight, Free Open-Source Voting System in One California County...
By Brad Friedman on 12/8/2008, 3:28pm PT  

By John Gideon and Brad Friedman

"Some people have called those who have long decried our nation's move toward voting machines nuts or just sore losers," reads the editorial from yesterday's Eureka Times-Standard.

"They were loud, and they were strident in proclaiming that they didn't trust election technologies as much as they trust the ability of actual human beings to count votes," the paper continues in response to the citizen's "Transparency Project" in Humboldt County, CA which, as The BRAD BLOG reported last week, discovered some 200 ballots that the county's Diebold optical-scan system had deleted from the initially certified count. Humboldt registrar Carolyn Crnich --- who deserves much credit for working with local election integrity advocates to allow them to create a more transparent, open-source optical-scan system as a check on the buggy Diebold hardware and software --- was forced to to re-certify the November 4th election with new results after the findings.

"The recent discovery, thanks to the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project, of a discrepancy in election results due to flawed software reveals that these activists were right to make noise, and right to complain about a company that has been less than responsible in dealing with the problem."

Thanks for noticing, Times-Standard. Now will the rest of the country notice? Specifically, will the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, responsible for testing and certifying these machines at the federal level, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice, responsible for enforcing federal laws --- which again seem to have been violated by Diebold (whose election division now calls themselves Premier) --- notice and take action?

Interviews with and responses from CA officials from Crnich to Sec. of State Debra Bowen's office indicate a serious problem, yet again, with Diebold's handling of the software failure which the company has known about for four years, even as they allowed election officials to continue using the same system in several states.

The BRAD BLOG has obtained a copy of Diebold's original terse, emailed notice of the software failure, sent to Crnich's predecessor in 2004, but never sent to CA's new Sec. of State, despite her "Top-to-Bottom Review" of all e-voting systems in the state which she undertook after taking office in 2007. (The Diebold email notice is posted below, in full.)

At the same time, local software programmer Mitch Trachtenberg, who developed the simple, transparent, open-source optical-scan software, using off-the-shelf hardware for the citizen's project --- including the ability to post all scanned ballots onto the web for citizen review --- may have inadvertently revealed the scam perpetuated by the nation's electronic voting machine vendor's who were allocated some $3.9 billion federal tax dollars for their efforts at creating proprietary systems, which don't even work as promised...or as required by federal law...

Diebold Knew...

Mirroring another recent Diebold/Premier admission that the company knew about their GEMS tabulator software's inclination to drop thousands of votes without notice to system administrator's, the company admitted to Crnich last week that the ballots deleted by their optical-scan system was part of a bug they'd known about for at least four years.

During The BRAD BLOG's regular weekly appearance on the nationally-syndicated Peter B. Collins Show, Crnich was interviewed about the discovery in Humboldt. After initial reports that Diebold had failed to notify the county about the bug in their software, Crnich learned that, in fact, her predecessor had in fact been notified about the problem, via a short email notice, sent by Diebold in October of 2004.

The email from Diebold's Western Regional Support Manager, sent just more than two weeks prior to the 2004 election included a short attachment explaining the solution, but not the problem. The email follows in full...

From: Runyan, Therese (Tari) []
Sent: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 7:40 PM
To: Billie Alvarez (E-mail); Debbie Hench (E-mail); DeJusto, Madelyn (E-mail); Elaine Ginnold (E-mail); Julie Rodewald (E-mail); McWilliams, Lindsey; Mark Gonzales (E-mail); Ryan Ronco (E-mail); Sally McPherson (E-mail); Sandy Brockman (E-mail); Tulare - Hiley Wallis (E-mail)
Cc: Robert Chen (E-mail)
Subject: Central Count for the upcoming election

I have attached a document that details using Central Count for November - specifically beginning Central Count and the Deck 0. It is very important that you follow these instructions - please contact Rob or myself if you have any questions . Thank you {{Gems1-18-19CentralCount.doc..}}

Tari Runyan
Western Regional Support Manager
Diebold Election Systems
10675 N. Abilene St.
Commerce City, Co 80022

voice [number redacted for privacy]
cell [number redacted for privacy]

The WORD file attachment to the email reads in full:

This Document is to Provide a Working Solution for the Following


When running Gems and processing ballots with the Central Count Server an issue exists with correctly sorting committed decks, in some reports, and also deleting other decks under certain conditions, when "deck 0" has not been deleted.


When the election is invoked and there has been no Central Count ballot processing ever done in the database then start the Central Count server and process a "Start" card and then immediately afterwards an "Ender" card. This will commit deck 0 without any ballots and allow the deletion of the committed deck 0 from the database. You should delete Deck 0.

This must be done as the first action after starting Central Count

As Crnich confirmed during our interview with her on the PBC Show, she was never made aware of the problem until after discovering the 200 missing ballots from her previously certified vote totals. She also explained that CA SoS Bowen's office was unaware of the problem as well.

Deputy Sec. of State and spokesperson Nicole Winger told The BRAD BLOG on Friday that Bowen "is certainly concerned about Premier's carelessness with yet another elections product and she thinks it's distressing that the company took virtually no action for years on this apparent defect."

"Secretary Bowen is talking with the company, county elections officials and others about how to prevent this problem from ever happening again in California," Winger wrote via email.

The Friday radio interview with Crnich, in which she offers more details on what happened and how the discovery was made, can be download here [MP3], or listened to online below (appx. 20 mins)...

Diebold Blames the Federal Testing Process..

On Sunday, in addition to their editorial, quoted at the top of this article, the Eureka Times-Standard followed up on their excellent reporting on the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project's findings. The article included this statement about the failure from, the unfortunately-named, Diebold/Premier spokesman Chris Riggall:

Pressed as to why the company didn't do more to ensure the software problem didn't affect any elections --- either by recalling the software entirely and correcting the problem or, at least, issuing new operations manuals with the work-around procedure included --- Riggall said federal and state certification processes, which can take years, made that impractical.

"It's one of the real obstacles in our business that when we identify an issue, getting that enhancement into the field so that issue can be corrected is a very lengthy, laborious, expensive and time-consuming process," Riggall said. "When you're not able to do that, you have to rely more on work-arounds and the guidance of your customers."

Riggall's statement is an amazing bit of obfuscation and misdirection. The last federal certification of the GEMS tabulator software v. 1.18.19 was done in Sept. 2004. We have also found that the same problem experienced by Humboldt County is still featured in the later GEMS v. 1.18.22 which was certified for use on central count optical-scan systems at the same time as v. 1.18.19.

Since September of 2004, Diebold has presented 13 different system versions for testing and certification by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), which oversaw federal testing and certification of voting systems before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. NASED was allowed to continue testing and certification for the EAC for several years afterwards, until the new federal body, employing many of the same administrators who ran the system at NASED, created their own testing/certification process. The NASED process was quick and simple for the vendors, which is one reason that the voting systems on the market and used across the nation right now --- none have yet been certified by the new EAC process --- are so prone to seemingly-unending problems and failures.

At any point in 2004, after September, until today, Diebold/Premier could have, in fact, recalled v. 1.18.19 and v. 1.18.22 and any other versions of the faulty software, to replace them with a GEMS version that did not have the problem. They didn't. And they also, clearly, did not go out of their way to notify election officials about the serious flaw.

Diebold's Apparent Violation of Federal Law...

The fact that Diebold/Premier did not take the action to recall the systems, actually puts them into a situation where they may very well have violated federal law. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 Title III Section 301(a)(5) mandates an acceptable error rate for voting systems in use in federal elections. That error rate, not counting any error caused by an action of the voter, cannot exceed 0.00001%.

However, in the case of the Humboldt County vote count, the error rate was 0.31%.

We have asked both the Secretary of State of California and the EAC if they plan to take action by asking the US Attorney Office to investigate this seemingly clear violation of federal law. Neither the CA SoS, nor the EAC has yet replied to our queries on that matter.

The Federal E-Voting Scam Revealed...

Mitch Trachtenberg, the software developer who voluntarily created the open-sourced optical-scan system used by Humboldt, as a parallel check and balance to the federally certified Diebold op-scan system detailed how and why he built the software in a posting on his website yesterday.

"Our votes are too important to be counted by secret software running on black-box vendor machines," Trachtenberg notes at the end of his article.

Of course, he's correct, as The BRAD BLOG, and other Election Integrity organizations around the country have spent years arguing and documenting in excruciating detail.

While there are still transparency concerns, even with open-source paper ballot optical-scan systems such as the one Trachtenberg seemingly developed, rather easily and inexpensively, he may have inadvertently revealed a far larger scam via the simple project developed with Crnich and other election integrity advocates.

Billions of dollars have been allocated via federal law for the testing, certification and "upgrading" to voting systems which are claimed as "proprietary trade secrets" from a handful of private corporations such as Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia, Hart Intercivic and a few others. Virtually every single one of them has proven to miscount votes, break down during voting, and otherwise stay completely un-transparent to the citizens who they are supposed to be serving. The result has been a multi-billion dollar tax-payer boondoggle, and a voting system no more reliable or oversee-able than the voting systems they were meant to replace.

America's voting system has grown far worse, and less reliable, since 2000, due to the federal laws and mandates ostensibly written to improve it, even as a handful of electronic voting vendors have grown far richer at tax-payer expense.

With Trachtenberg's off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software, developed in a short time, and at no cost at all to the tax-payer, he has virtually on his own, revealed the federal e-voting system to be little more than a scam.

If Trachtenberg could develop such a system on his own, with no federal funding whatsoever, no proprietary software and simple, off-the-shelf scanners, such that it seems to have counted votes more accurately than the one developed for years by Diebold, at enormous tax-payer expense, why shouldn't every voting jurisdiction that insists on op-scan voting systems immediately sue Diebold (and the other companies) for fraud, breach of contract --- or anything else they can find in order to recoup the millions spent on these broken systems --- and immediately switch to the Trachtenberg system?

We hope Crnich, Bowen, and election officials around the entire country who insist on such systems will give that notion serious thought. Trachtenburg just proved how easily it can be done, even while proving, yet again, as the Times-Standard noted, that those of us who have been yelling and screaming about these matters for years were "right to make noise, and right to complain about [companies] that [have] been less than responsible in dealing with the problem."

As long promised, The BRAD BLOG has covered your electoral system 2008, fiercely and independently, like no other media outlet in the nation. Please support our work with a donation to help us keep going. If you like, we'll send you some great, award-winning election integrity documentary films in return! Details on that right here...