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Posted by on Jan 3, 2012 in Politics, Science & Technology | 9 comments

Election System Alert: ES&S Machines

If you are a voter in Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin (or know someone who is) listen up. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has found signifiant anomalies with an optical scanner produced by Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and shows jurisdictions in these states using the equipment.

Because of the “anomalies”, close races could be decided incorrectly. From the findings:

  • “The DS200 accepts a voted ballot but does not record the ballot on its internal counter. In addition the marks of the second ballot are not recorded.”
  • “When a 17” ballot was inserted at an angle, the DS200 did not consistently count the mark properly. The mark registered either as a different selection than intended or did not register at all.”
  • The system randomly freezes and does not record the freeze in its log files. There are other events not logged, such as touch screen calibration.

Notice the painful timeline of 20 months: EAC became aware of the problem on April 15, 2010 after a Cleveland Plain Dealer report that “About 10 percent of Cuyahoga County’s voting machines … [had] failed a pre-election test.” The EAC issued this report on December 22, 2011. And before the equipment can be ruled noncompliant, ES&S has an “opportunity to cure non-compliance and have an opportunity to be heard prior to any final decision on decertification.”

Oh. And who reimburses those jurisdictions for the cost of having bought bum equipment?

Taxpayers [in Cuyahoga County] spent more than $12 million on the scanners in 2008, to replace a $21 million touch-screen system that crashed twice on the night of the 2007 general election. The scanners were used in the 2008 presidential election, the 2009 election that ushered in a charter government, the 2010 election that chose new county leaders and countless local elections affecting taxes, city councils and school boards.

The EAC blog post (a form of press release) must be written by lawyers and designed to make it hard to understand just how bad the equipment is. Here’s how EAC describes the problems to the public:

  • Intermittent screen freezes, system lockups and shutdowns that prevents the voting system from operating in the manner in which it was designed.
  • Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events.
  • Skewing of the ballot resulting in a negative effect on system accuracy.

The EAC has a map suggesting that only a handful of jurisdictions use the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) DS200 Precinct Count Optical Scanner in the EAC-certified Unity voting system. There appears to be no way to determine how widespread this scanner is throughout America’s electoral jurisdictions.

In 2009, ES&S (The Omaha World-Herald Co. is a minority owner in the Omaha, NE company ) bought the election equipment division of Diebold. In 2010, Dominion Voting Systems purchased those formerly Diebold (rebranded as Premier Election Solutions) assets, which includes both optical scan, central scan, and touch screen voting systems. ES&S claims to be the largest purveyor of elections equipment in the world.

The findings (pdf) on the EAC website; the findings on Scribd below:

EAC, Formal Investigation ESS Unity 3200 FINAL 12.20.11

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • roro80

    I remember filling in bubbles and getting them correctly scanned in like 1986. It’s pretty sad that this is somehow acceptable to anyone. Paper trails are good things.

  • Thankfully, they’re not in my county, but know for a fact that our system doesn’t have any real paper trail. I have to agree with roro80: without a paper trail, you’re inviting trouble.

  • You definitely need a paper trail — but the problem is that a recount is triggered only in close races. This is an optical scan system (well, it sounds like part of it is) because one of the problems was with improperly scanning paper ballots.

    The fact that this took 20 months to investigate boggles the mind. And look how many millions of dollars these not-working-right systems have cost taxpayers.

  • Perhaps that’s why the Canadians and most of Europe has gone back to counting ballots by hand. If you think a multinational corporation can be trusted to count your vote you are a fool.
    Of course hand counting is not fool proof – the secret ballot was instituted to make fixing elections easier.

  • zephyr

    Is it possible this is an area in which left and right can agree? What madness!!! (I prefer the old way too)

  • Hi, Ron — an interesting question -> where did the demand for speedy counts come from? Is it TV?

    Hi, zephyr — normal voters, maybe, but not the parties. The Rs are still in their delusional view that lefties are voting illegally (ie, multiple times or for other people) right and left and thus photo IDs must be implemented … when the data don’t support this manufactured “fear.” The Ds are focused more on access to poll and proper accounting.

  • zephyr

    Funny how we never seem to hear concerns expressed from the right about voter suppression. Why is this?

  • ShannonLeee

    Great…3rd world countries have better voting systems than we do!

  • Quelcrist Falconer

    Great…3rd world countries have better voting systems than we do!

    Hate to break it to you, but we are a third world country, the wealthiest one but one none the less.

    We have the GINI index of a Third World Country, a Health Care System that produces Third World results, an Educational System that produces Third World results, and an infrastructure that is slowly decaying into Third World status.

    This is what people want, they have spent the last forty years voting for policies that have taken us being the most technologically advanced country with the highest standard of living in the world to country in which 20% of the population lives in poverty and another 20% lives on the edge of poverty.

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