Humboldt County's First-of-Its-Kind Citizen Oversight Program Finds 197 Ballots Dropped, Miscounted by Voting System in One Precinct
Company Knew About Software Flaw, Failed to Notify County...
By John Gideon on 12/5/2008, 5:21am PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon of

First I think congratulations are in order for Humboldt County California Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich. Crnich worked with local voters and began the "Humboldt Election Transparency Project". The Eureka Times-Standard describes the program like this:

The basic idea behind the first-of-its-kind transparency project is fairly simple: every ballot cast in an election is passed through an optical scanner after being officially counted and the images are then placed online and available for download.

Software, created by volunteer Mitch Trachtenberg, then allows viewers to sort the ballots by precinct or race to conduct recounts at their pleasure.

Crnich also deserves a big thank you, along with Trachtenberg, from the voters of Eureka Precinct 1E-45 because if not for the project and Trachtenberg's software their votes in the recent general election would not have been counted. The Times-Standard explains:

The first of its kind Humboldt Election Transparency Project has uncovered a glitch in the county election's software that resulted in almost 200 ballots not being counted and the county certifying inaccurate election results.

And this "glitch" in the Diebold/Premier GEMS central tabulator software has been known to the company since 2004, or so Crnich learned after exchanging several calls with the vendor...

The paper goes on to report:

Shortly after the election was officially certified Monday, Crnich said she got an e-mail from Trachtenberg saying something was amiss.

”(Eureka's) Precinct 1E-45 seemed out of kilter,” she said. “The count just wasn't adding up.”

After double checking all of the precinct's logs and ballots, Crnich said she discovered a deck of 197 vote-by-mail ballots for the precinct that had been run through the ballot counting optical scanner, but did not seem to appear in the final vote tallies.

After exchanging several calls with Premier Elections Solutions, Crnich said she was told that the software begins counting decks of ballots at zero, and that sometimes when a deck is deleted from the machine due to normal complications, the software also deletes the Deck Zero, which in this case was the vote-by-mail ballots from Precinct 1E-45.

Crnich said she then called the Secretary of State's Office.

”They were very interested and actually offered great congratulations on this project,” Crnich said.

Crnich said she later learned from the Secretary of State's Office that two other California counties, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, use the same version of GEMS elections software (version 1.18.19), as well as several entire states, including Maryland.

Apparently both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties had been notified of this problem by Diebold/Premier but they neglected to notify both Humboldt County and the California Secretary of State even though the system used in California was a part of the state's "Top-To-Bottom Review" of voting systems.

The scariest part of all this, said Trachtenberg, is that the issue would have never been uncovered without the transparency project.

”Has this happened in other counties or other states?” he asked. “How can we know?”

That is a very good question. How many states/counties know about this problem? In fact, did the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) know about this problem? If not; why not? This voting system miscounts votes due to problems that are not generated by the voter. This clearly makes the use of this voting system a violation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 Section 301(a)(5). If the EAC knew about this problem why was it not referred to the Department of Justice for investigation? If they did not know about the problem will they take action now? I know I will be asking those questions.

The news article concludes:

Uncovering the glitch also seems to lend credence to groups of people across the country who, for years, have criticized placing the nation's elections in the hands of private companies that dispense vote counting machines that operate with secrete [sic], proprietary codes that, in many cases, leave no paper trail.

Kevin Collins, who volunteers with the transparency project and is one of its charter members, said this never would have been uncovered without Crnich's dedication to transparent elections.

”She deserves a huge amount of credit for devising a system for doing something in Humboldt County that isn't being done anywhere else, and that's auditing 100 percent of the ballots,” Collins said.

The uncovered glitch means little for Humboldt County's election, as it won't change the outcome of any races and, consequently won't even require a re-certification of the election's results, but it has implications that could reverberate throughout the world of elections.

”You just can't trust a secret program to count this stuff because programers [sic] make mistakes,” Trachtenberg said. “People have been complaining about secret machine counts and the companies have said these folks are nuts. But, the first time (the transparency project) is done in a general election, it comes up with a problem --- a problem (Premier Elections Solutions) has known about for four years.”

UPDATE 12/9/08: Much more now here...

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