For first time, compromised federal agency admits their previous certification was deeply flawed...
By Brad Friedman on 12/23/2011, 2:23pm PT  

Not to say we told ya so, but, ya know, we've been telling you so for years (and years.)

A new finding by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission --- a rare finding, first of its kind, in fact, as the woeful EAC has never before taken the time to investigate and report on serious failures of e-voting systems that it has previously blessed with federal certification --- reveals that ES&S paper ballot optical-scan systems used in a bunch of large swing states, result in machines freezing during elections, failing to log system events correctly, and, perhaps most troubling, ballots being misread and votes being lost entirely.

The EAC's "Formal Investigation Report" follows on April 2010 revelations by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that some 10% of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland)'s EAC-certified ES&S Precinct Count Optical Scanner and Unity 3.2.0.0 tabulator voting systems failed in pre-election testing last year.

The paper ballot scanning computers were purchased as a replacement for the 100% unverifiable Diebold touch-screen systems used previously in Ohio's largest county, after a massive analysis of all of the state's e-voting systems, overseen by former Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner (D), revealed serious security issues and other major flaws in the touch-screen voting machines used there and in many other states.

Relatedly, Diebold's own paper ballot optical-scan system has similarly been found, in the past, to include a flaw which results in votes being lost entirely, though the EAC never issued a warning about that system, to our knowledge, even after it led to hundreds of votes going uncounted in at least one election in Northern California (and lord only knows how many elsewhere that the same system is used.)

The new findings of the failures of the ES&S op-scan system led Plain Dealer reporter/blogger Laura Johnston today to worry: "If the company can't correct the flaw, the government could decertify the machines --- leaving Cuyahoga and jurisdictions [throughout] the country no way to conduct elections in a presidential year."

Um, did the citizens of Cleveland lose their eyeballs? Or the ability to add 1 + 1 + 1, Ms. Johnston? Yes, there are other ways "to conduct elections in a presidential year." For example, one could simply count the ballots by hand in public, at the precinct, in front of all voters, all parties and video cameras, and report the results right then and there before the ballots are moved anywhere --- just as they still do in some 40% of the towns in the "First-in-the-Nation Primary" state of New Hampshire.

The flawed scanners manufactured by ES&S, the nation's largest e-voting vendor, are currently set to be used again in 2012, not only in Ohio, but also in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Wisconsin, among others states...

USA Today reports on the EAC findings this way today...

The federal agency responsible for inspecting voting equipment said Thursday that a ballot scanner used in several key battleground states can freeze up without warning, fail to log errors and misread ballots.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission said the ballot reader, made by Omaha-based ES&S, is not in compliance with federal standards. And while it's the first time the 8-year-old agency has taken such a step, it falls just short of decertification — a move that could force election officials to abandon the machines on the eve of the 2012 presidential primaries.

The DS200 optical-scan system is designed to read paper ballots fed into the machines by voters themselves at their precincts. It's used in all or part of Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Wisconsin.

The commission found three problems with the machines:

• Random screen-freezes that prevent ballots from being fed.

• Failure to log errors in a file that would let election officials know of problems.

• Skewing of ballots as they're fed into the machine, making votes cast in some parts of the ballot unreadable.

ES&S responded in a statement to customers Thursday. "While we may not necessarily agree with all of the findings or recommendations within the report, we have nonetheless pledged our full cooperation."

On the logging issue, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law professor and e-voting expert Candace Hoke is quoted telling the paper: "If someone were to hack into the machine, if the logging is not secure and doesn't protect it from rollbacks, that would allow someone to tamper with it and leave no trace."

After the discovery in 2008 that Diebold's machines, like ES&S', were failing to count ballots properly, an investigation by California Sec. of State Debra Bowen led to the admission by Diebold that their systems also failed to log events properly, allowing activity log files to be deleted entirely, without a trace of the system manipulation being left behind.

If you're starting to get the impression that all electronically-based vote tabulation systems in use in these United States are complete crap, a) what took you so long to notice?, and b) when will you start demanding that election officials begin instituting hand-counted paper ballot pilot programs, so that we can actually move to verifiable, transparent, overseeable elections and self-governance, in a country which once prided itself on being "the world's greatest democracy"?

EAC Failure

As to the EAC, they are, as we've written in great detail over many years, a totally compromised and utterly failed federal agency. The largely toothless panel was created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, in the wake of the Florida Presidential Debacle of 2000. It was charged with, among other things, certifying e-voting systems at the federal level, and serving as a national clearinghouse for e-vote system failures.

The result has been little more than indescribably poor certification testing (as highlighted once again today by the fact that the ES&S system found to have failed in Ohio had already supposedly been tested and then certified at the federal level) and a complete failure to decertify a single system even after mountains of failures have been documented in them over the years --- many of them on the pages of this very news site.

Beyond failing to decertify, in most cases the EAC doesn't even bother to inform, much less warn, jurisdictions who use the systems found to be flawed, about those flaws and how the failures could jeopardize the integrity of their elections.

So toothless and compromised is the EAC --- manned largely by e-voting industry friends and apologists --- that the very first chair of the commission, DeForest Soaries, appointed by George W. Bush, actually quit in 2005, declaring --- as we reported exclusively at the time --- both Congress and Bush Administration interests for reforming elections through the agency to be "a charade" and "a travesty". He went on to charge that the electoral system we have in place in this nation is "ripe for stealing elections and for fraud."

Despite the failures of the commission, it is needed, at least in our opinion (many Election Integrity advocates disagree), as someone must serve to test and certify electronic voting systems at the federal level, so long as we insist on using them in this country. Of late, the GOP has tried to kill the agency entirely, charging that it performs no necessary services. They are wrong. It does perform necessary services. It just does so incredibly poorly. The GOP hasn't helped matters, however, as they have managed to block the appointment of Barack Obama's nominee to fill the fourth commissioner's seat on the panel, leaving it to be run --- as we head into yet another election year --- by two Republican-nominated appointees, and one that was nominated for Executive appointment by Democrats.

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