Normally this space is taken with my ideas of what are the “Top 5” voting news stories for the week. Today I am going to use this space to talk about what I see as the beginning of a disaster in the making with our elections. This isn’t the election fraud that some point to when they talk about the vendors and some elections officials. It’s not about recounts or audits. This is a real, get your hands around it, happening problem that will disrupt our election process if we do not do something about it now. While we have been involved in all of our issues about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE or ‘touch screen’) voting machines or paper ballots the electronic voting machine vendors have been wreaking complete havoc across the country.
So far this year two states have conducted primary elections. In Texas there is at least one candidate who has stepped forward and has challenged the election because of anomalies in vote counts and known voting machine failures. One county’s machines counted some votes up to 6 times which resulted in approximately 100,000 more votes being counted than were cast. Though the vendor, Hart Intercivic, initially blamed the problem on human error, they finally had to admit that it was a programming error and not poll workers or voters who had erred. In Illinois some county officials are threatening to withhold final payment of funds on contracts with Sequoia Voting Systems because of failures with their machines that resulted in results in the primary not being known for over a week after the voters went to the polls. In both states the involved vendors were very successful in the media with deflecting the blame from their machines to “human errors” or “glitches”. However, when you listen to people who were there and who saw and worked through the problems you get a different picture.
As these primaries were being conducted Summit County Ohio announced that over 70% of the memory cards for their precinct based optical-scan machines would not work. The vendor, ES&S, announced that their memory card contractor had made mistakes on some cards and they would be replaced. Memory cards for electronic voting machines store vote tabulations amongst other things.
Apparently ES&S does not consider ‘Quality Control’ to be a worthwhile corporate value because they never checked those cards. They replaced the bad cards and 20% of those cards failed. Now, this week, the newest batch of cards were delivered after being tested twice by ES&S. They were tested by the county who found that 4% of those cards failed. In the meantime all 1000 memory cards delivered to the state of North Carolina were replaced because of a large percentage of failures. There is no report, yet, of how many of the 1000 memory cards are bad and will need replacement except that local counties still have not received their cards.
Meanwhile early voting began in Indiana and Nebraska. 69 of the 93 counties in
Nebraska have no paper ballots from their vendor, ES&S, and no ballot programming for their voting machines. 11 counties in Indiana have the same problems and they are threatening lawsuits. Prebel County Ohio reported they had not gotten their paper ballots. On March 29 the Texas Secretary of State sent an urgent memorandum to all county clerks, elections administrators and county chairs noting that many officials had not received electronic programming or paper ballots for primary runoff elections to be held on April 11.
In Pennsylvania ES&S has become the main provider of voting systems and they are not able to deliver all machines that they are contracted to deliver to the counties in time for the primary. They are asking counties to accept a small percentage of the machines they need to conduct elections. In some instances counties may be left with fewer machines than they need to satisfy the accessibility mandates of HAVA and they will have to find another means of meeting that requirement.
Why don’t the states or counties speak out? Just this week Marion County Indiana
held a county council meeting and demanded that the local ES&S representative attend. Marion County’s ballots for a school board position were received with no instructions printed for the voters. Instead ES&S sent an attorney with orders not to say anything except that the representative was involved in a conference call that began 15 minutes before the council meeting and that he would not be able to attend.
Johnson County Clerk, Jill Jackson had this to say about their experience with ES&S:
What is reported above is only what has been in the media. We now have reports from Nevada County, California that ES&S has missed its deadline for delivery of paper ballots to the county. They were due to be delivered on April 6. On April 7 the county registrar received Democratic ballots only and those were filled with errors and will need to be returned to ES&S. The county also has not had their ballot programming done, as promised.
In Wake County, North Carolina they have 218, just tested, ES&S M-100 precinct based optical-scan machines. ES&S acceptance tested the 218 machines to their standards and failed 11 of those machines. The remaining 207 machines were delivered to a county contractor, InfoSentry, who tested those machines and failed 5. ES&S then delivered 11 machines to replace the machines they had failed and InfoSentry failed 2 of those. This represents a 7.8% failure rate or 18 failures out of 229 machines received. Where is the quality control?
Why is this happening? It is very apparent that some of the voting machine vendors over-extended their ability to meet their contracts for machines and for ancillary services like paper ballot printing. These
companies saw an opportunity to make a lot of money at the expense of the tax payers and they saw a deadline of 1 January 2006 that fit right in with their plans to get as much money as possible this year. The vendors are raking in the money through deceptive practices and shoddy workmanship.
Dennis Vadura is the former CEO of AccuPoll, a voting machine vendor that has filed for bankruptcy. He has this to say about the industry (emphasis added):
Yesterday I heard a speech from my county auditor who is the head election official in my county in Washington state. She said that those who are raising concerns about voting and elections are just undermining the confidence of the voting public. What a naÃ¯ve statement to make. We all need to be aware of what is happening to our elections. We all need to talk to our counties, states, and federal officials and let them know that we are headed for a disaster nationally. Maybe your county is in good shape but this is a national issue and a national disaster in the making.
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 should have been changed to extend the dead-line for another year. Many of us argued for this but our arguments fell on deaf ears. Now our local elections officials are being held-up by vendors who know they have them over a barrel and that the counties must do something right now or face penalties from the Department of Justice.
This issue has nothing to do with security of voting machines or accuracy or voter verified paper ballots or some vendor CEO having ties to a political party. It is just about contractors who are out to grab every dollar they can get and they don’t seem to care that our elections are going to suffer for their actions or inactions. And imagine, this is only the first year. Counties have HAVA funds to spend this year. What happens next year when those counties get the bills for technical assistance, ballot printing, maintenance, ballot programming, and machine storage? ES&S certainly doesn’t care about that. They show that every day.
I often get asked, “What can I do?” Well, the time for action is now. Pass this article on to your local, state and federal elected officials and ask them to do a little reading of the media reports included in this article. They are far from being the only articles on this subject. Ask them how they are going to handle these problems when it comes time for their primaries. Don’t let them tell you it won’t happen there because it very easily can happen there or here or the next state over. We, you and I, need to take action on this now for the sake of our elections. We are headed for a train wreck.