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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