County election director Kathy Dent's 'solution' as bad or worse than the actual problem...as usual...
By Brad Friedman on 10/17/2009, 6:21pm PT  

The November 3rd Election Day is nearing, so naturally the words "glitch," "hiccup," "snafu," and "snag" are back in the headlines, instead of the word "failure," which would be the appropriate one to use in such cases.

Today, it's our old friends in Sarasota, under the continuing and now-legendarily failed direction of Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent and her latest failed voting system, this one an optical-scan system made by Diebold, featured in the Charlotte Sun's "Scanning glitch in vote machine test":

A handful of individuals were on hand this week at the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections office where Supervisor Kathy Dent and staff tested 16 ballot scanners that will be used in the Nov. 3 city council election.

In one test a ballot with both blue and black ink was unable to be scanned. Officials pulled that scanner from service and substituted another. It didn't work either.

The machine that didn't work --- no, it's not a "glitch," it didn't succeed in carrying out the purpose for which it was designed and purchased anymore than a car which didn't start, or whose brakes failed could be said to have a "glitch" --- was the old, failed Diebold Accuvote optical-scan system, similarly used in hundreds and hundreds of counties in dozens and dozens of other states.

The "solution" Dent ultimately settled on in response to the failure of the machines made by Diebold (now calling themselves Premier and recently purchased by their larger competitor ES&S) is as bad, and as offensive, as the original failure itself...

They copied the ballot [using black ink] and ran it through the machine successfully.

That's exactly how Dent's office plans on dealing with any blue-ink ballot problems on election day.
...
Ballot booths will have black felt-tip pens to be used, but just in case you are an absentee voter, she recommends using black ink.

"If the absentee ballots have the blue ink, we will know if the scanner is not reading that and we will duplicate that ballot" to run through the scanner, Dent said.

Got that? If an absentee voter's ballot is filled out in blue ink and doesn't get read by the scanner, and election officials happen to notice that, someone from the office will "duplicate" the ballot by hand (presumably accurately, but who can know for certain?) onto another ballot that will then be run through the op-scanner to be counted (presumably accurately, but who can know for certain?).

All of that in lieu of simply counting the damned thing in front everyone, with that other type of tabulator so rarely used: Human eyeballs.

As to what will happen at the polling place --- where ballots are run immediately through the op-scanner --- if someone uses blue ink, instead of the black ink pens the county will endeavor to provide, the "solution" is similarly pathetic...

"At the polling place it will kick the ballot back if it's a blank ballot or if a person over-voted. If it's rejected at the polling place, voters will have an opportunity to redo the ballot."

But what if there is mark in one race but not the other? Sarasota inventor Skip Parish said that could go unread.

Former testing has shown the county's Premier's OSX models have run into this problem before, and it has yet to be resolved, he said.

Parish is absolutely right. The Diebold/Premier op-scan systems have had this problem for a long time. So have other scanners made by other companies, such as ES&S for example, the company which recently purchased Diebold/Premier and which, if the sale is not stopped, will own a virtual monopoly in controlling the tabulation of nearly every vote in the U.S.

And, as if it's not already all bad enough, there's this additional thought from the article: Even with the "correct" ink, ballots are only sometimes read correctly by the scanners...

City Clerk Lori Stelzer, who was at the voting machine test, said that after Dent left a second ballot had trouble running through a scanner. They tried it again and it worked, she said.

The real solution, of course, is to simply use a system similar to the one used when a race is believed to be so close that candidates and voters demand every ballot be counted and counted accurately, the gold standard for elections, hand-counting --- hopefully at the precincts and in front of the entire citizenry.

But Dent would rather move her voters from the ES&S touch-screen system which infamously failed by losing 18,000 ballots wholesale in 2006 during a U.S. Congressional race decided by just 369 votes for the Republican candidate, to a Diebold op-scan system that loses them ... um ... whenever it wants.

Or, whenever she wants! This is the same system which was found to have a number of failures which allow for the wholesale deletion of ballots without notice to anybody, and allow the supposedly "permanent" audit log system to be re-written at any time, without notice to anybody. That's just one of the reasons that Velvet Revolution is asking you to join their "Diebold: Return Our Money!" campaign

[Disclosure: The BRAD BLOG is a co-founder of VR].

This is also the same system as seen being exploited in the 2006 HBO documentary Hacking Democracy. In that film, the machines were hacked in such a way that only a hand-count of ballots would have ever revealed the results had been entirely flipped. You can watch the infamous hack from the film right here. Yes, those machines are still being used in Florida, and virtually every other state in the union, despite what was revealed by that years-old hack.

Speaking of years-old hacks, good luck to ya on November 3rd, Kathy Dent! And good luck to Sarasota voters this year! And to all the others around the country using identical, or nearly identical equipment to tabulate their paper ballots in lieu of human being actually counting them accurately and publicly.

That's democracy! Or...whatever.

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