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Your vote counts, until the memory is full.
December 12, 2004 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Oops. Touch-screen errors led to loss of 4,400 ballots in North Carolina election.
posted by drezdn (48 comments total)

 
Apparently the memory could only retain 3,000 votes and then ignored any additional votes. The state is holding a revote for State Ag. commisioner.
posted by drezdn at 3:25 PM on December 12, 2004


Damn, and it was so close in NC!
posted by dancingbaptist at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2004


this was interesting: Doherty's organization teamed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to send letters to election officials in eight counties nationwide where voters reported incidents problematic enough to warrant "further investigation, if not full audits, recounts or redos of the election," he said. He hasn't received responses from those counties, which include Broward and Palm Beach in Florida, Mahoning and Franklin in Ohio, Mercer and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Harris in Texas and Bernalillo in New Mexico.

I wonder if they'll get to revote too?
posted by amberglow at 3:38 PM on December 12, 2004


Damn, and you were so close to reading the article!
posted by joe lisboa at 3:39 PM on December 12, 2004


the memory could only retain 3,000 votes

What the ...? Are they using technology from 1942?

Oh well.

It's a buggy, buggy world!
posted by Turtle at 3:41 PM on December 12, 2004


The thing I find interesting is that the company would put out such a defective machine. Did they put the wrong amount of memory in? Did they try cutting corners by putting in less memory?
posted by drezdn at 3:43 PM on December 12, 2004


...far fewer than the 10,000 the machines should be able to handle, according to the manufacturer, UniLect Corp. in Dublin, Calif.

Oh, 10,000, well that's a big number.

UniLect Corporation, "Makers of the Patriot vote-counting system."
"Simplicity and Reliability for All -- It's About Time"

Their graphics look like they date back to 1942.
posted by Turtle at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2004


You're all fucking crazy. Stop allowing your government to put the most important element of democracy, vote counting, in the hands of private enterprise, without even a paper trail. This is no-brainer stuff.

Developing...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2004


What P_G said, sort of--even the most ardent wingnut must agree that if you want us whiny gay-lovin' liberals to shut up, why not throw a few billion into a federal, standardized voting system, and more importably, one not run according to profit motive a la Diebold.

Hell, a half-of-a-day of what's being spent in Iraq (in monetary terms, of course not in lives) would probably be enough.
posted by bardic at 4:15 PM on December 12, 2004


According to the report, the county received updated software that would have allowed the touch-screen machine to store up to 10,428 ballots.

But a UniLect software engineer forgot that a machine setting had to be adjusted to meet that capacity level, according to an engineer's e-mail. The change was never made, meaning that the machine's storage capacity remained at 3,005 ballots.


So it was a software problem. Maybe they charge a different rate if you want to count more votes?

Nice job of silently failing, though:

Election workers at the early voting site signed affidavits stating they never saw a light on the touch-screen control unit that read, "Voter Log Full." The light appeared intermittently, and the machines appeared to continue to "record" ballots, the report said.

From this Nov. 23 AP article.

P_G: no-brainer? One of the difficulties is it's a very decentralized political system in the US, where people vote a lot, for many different posts and referendum questions. It's all very chaotic. I wonder how electronic machines dealt with the 180 or so candidates in the California gubernatorial elections, to cite a famous example of a crazy election happening without much notice. I'm not sure the problem is private enterprise. There might be room for some federal regulation, though, to insure minimal standards.

In France the problem is a lot simpler. As far as I can tell, you only ever vote for just one thing at a time. So the system they use (pre-printed paper ballots) seems pretty fool-proof, and probably hasn't changed in 100 years. But you don't vote for your judge or your dog-catcher or whatever, and you're never asked to decide on anything, except once in a blue moon, for a national or supra-national (European) question.
posted by Turtle at 4:15 PM on December 12, 2004


The thing I find interesting is that the company would put out such a defective machine.

why do you find that interesting? the whole point of american commerce anymore is to sell the lamest piece of shit for the maximum amount of cash. the company is just serving its shareholders to the fullest possible degree. the CEO will be offered triple his current salary at his next post.
posted by quonsar at 4:18 PM on December 12, 2004


Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee:

"The Recount effort is simply a search for the truth of what happened during the 2004 Presidential election in Ohio. We have now repeatedly seen election officials obstruct and stonewall this search for the truth. I am beginning to wonder what it is they are trying to hide."
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2004


My opinion is that PRIVITISATION CAN ONLY WORK WHERE THERE IS COMPETITION PROVIDED BY THE ELEMENT OF CONSUMER CHOICE, because this ensures a minimum standard of quality. Phones, internet, airlines, fine. Trains, no. Elections, you're fucking kidding me.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2004


It is the job of the corporation to benefit its shareholders. Where there is no element of consumer choice, it is the OBLIGATION of the corporation to put out the cheapest product they can get away with.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 4:24 PM on December 12, 2004


The weirdest part about this is that if we look at what the output of the machine is -- a count of the number of votes for each candidate or proposition -- you could store this in less than 50 bytes of information (less than the memory required by this comment). If you consider write in candidates, then the memory requirements go up a bit, but certainly not more than a megabyte for ALL votes (1 million characters, or 10,000 write in candidates at 100 characters each). Perhaps there is redundancy involved, or perhaps each vote is counted separately, but...

this is crazy.
posted by sleslie at 4:28 PM on December 12, 2004


Now, I don't think there was anything particularly shady about the past election. I don't think there was a conspiracy. I think the recent election was legitimate.

However, I don't understand why the hell we can't have a God damned paper trail with electronic voting machines. I've read and heard the arguments, I've examined them and there's no reason not to have it. It's a reasonable expectation and it's a reasonable thing to do.

What's the problem?

I expect there to be kinks and I hate that people were disenfranchised from the machines, but that's all stuff that should be worked out before-hand. In order to protect against such a thing, a paper trail should be available. We don't get that.
posted by Captaintripps at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2004


It is the job of the corporation to benefit its shareholders.

Then logically, the thing the company should do is produce machines that make sure to elect the candidate that will do the most for the bottom line...

Those who cast the votes, decide NOTHING; --- those who COUNT the votes decide everything.-Joseph Stalin
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:35 PM on December 12, 2004


Damn, and it was so close in NC!

From the (apparently unread by you) article:

That was the only state or local race close enough for the 4,400 votes to make a difference, said Robert Cordle, one of five members of the board. In that race, challenger Steve Troxler has a 2,300-vote lead over incumbent Britt Cobb. The Jan. 11 votes will be added to the November result.

The concern that I'm seeing here isn't, "our man lost, keep recounting," it's that there are such widespread complaints and validated issues with the voting machines used (and coupled with a complete lack of a paper trail for auditing purposes) that something needs done immediately to ensure that this doesn't keep happening. But you do what you do best and stick to beating that partisan drum. Dumbass.
posted by jperkins at 4:41 PM on December 12, 2004


P_G: CONSUMER CHOICE ... ensures a minimum standard of quality (sorry for chopping, but the caps hurt my eyes (though they certainly add weight to your argument (are you drunk?:-)))

So you wouldn't let the private sector build schools or courthouses? I don't get your argument.

By the way, here's a good example of the complicated voting that goes on in the US. It's fictional, but I think it's representative of what we're dealing with here: complexity and variation at a very local level. I've never seen anything like this in France.

On preview: one problem with a paper trail is that printers break down. This happened in Venezuela, I remember reading. But yeah, some kind of robust, highly-redundant and transparent backup mechanism, yeah, that would be nice. But it's not completely trivial, I'm afraid. Never has been.

Voting error and fraud have a long and glorious history. I guess in Europe they have it all figured out (though I still occasionally hear that dead people vote in Paris). So please teach America how it's done! Details, please.

PS: Also help get the trains to run on time. Amtrak sux!
posted by Turtle at 4:46 PM on December 12, 2004


3005 is a bizarre number for a limit on a binary computer system.

I guess in Europe they have it all figured out (though I still occasionally hear that dead people vote in Paris).

No need to go so far. Canada does a fine job with pencil and paper.

The real crux of the U.S. voting problem is the complexity of the system. State by state differences combined with the pile on of voting decisions means that no matter what solution you come up with things will not work well. It's not so much a technology problem as it is a democratic methodology problem.
posted by srboisvert at 5:17 PM on December 12, 2004


the whole point of american commerce anymore is to sell the lamest piece of shit for the maximum amount of cash.

and

Where there is no element of consumer choice, it is the OBLIGATION of the corporation to put out the cheapest product they can get away with.

and

logically, the thing the company should do is produce machines that make sure to elect the candidate that will do the most for the bottom line...

Are they getting through to everyone yet?

Oh, apparently not:
I don't get your argument.
Pull your head back in, Turtle.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2004


something needs done immediately to ensure that this doesn't keep happening

This statement seems to be based on the premise of an informed electorate that gives a shit about whether their votes are actually counted. This may be true of a tiny slice of the population, but the vast majority don't care. Witness the cries of "tinfoil hat" leveled at those who dare to challenge the way the vote went down this time.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's a travesty and there's no valid excuse for us not having a robust voting system. I just don't see much changing, with the same jerks in power. Nothing will change until there are riots in the streets because of botched election results, and maybe not even then.
posted by beth at 5:30 PM on December 12, 2004


Canada does a fine job with pencil and paper.

Yeah, but you need to wait a whole week to find out your results. We, hussle-bustle folk, have to know right now! If not sooner.

The U.S. could use some help for its ballot system from better democracies like, say, Brazil, which has open-source, electronic voting.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2004


We cannot accept such massive errors in voting machines, no matter what the result. Whether an election is improperly awarded or not, the very idea that any US citizen would just shrug off lost votes enrages me to my very core.

American democracy has been touted as the will of the people. However, when a few thousand votes can be discarded by a simple machine error, when the company that was paid to produce a product failed in the task it was paid for, and nobody is held responsible, nobody is outraged, that is a tragedy.

It's not a matter of who wins or loses, it's a matter of fair and free elections. Democracy is supposed to give the people an honest feeling that their vote counted. While one man's vote rarely decides an election, it is his legitimate statement on how he feels the government should run.

The only ones who can be hurt by fairness and honesty in elections are the unfair and the dishonest. It's much harder for a man to get things done if others think he's dishonest.
posted by Saydur at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2004


I believe it was an NPR interview, with a few key players in the e-voting issue a few months back, when a Diebold official said, essentially, "Sure, we could put a paper trail, a printout capacity, on the machines, easy. We just haven't been asked by election officials for those kinds of machines."

It seems that the main impediment suggested is the added cost involved for those kind of machines. There doesn't really seem to be inherently insurmountable technical issues to doing it.

I do find it frustrating that election officials, in view of demonstrated problems with paperless voting, are still trying to convince folks that there's nothing wrong with black-box ballot counting. Seems to me that a person of integrity would be compelled to admit there are weaknesses that having a paper trail could address.

A sworn election official, dedicated to making sure that the will of the people is represented in the elections, is simply abdicating their responsibility when they gloss over these issues, regardless of their political party.
posted by darkstar at 5:57 PM on December 12, 2004


On preview, what Saydur said.

In a democracy, elections are the crown jewels. It's saddening when they get so tarnished from neglect.
posted by darkstar at 5:59 PM on December 12, 2004


Turtle: So you wouldn't let the private sector build schools or courthouses?

I believe in cases like those the private sector can work under the auspices of government regulation, with the government firmly in charge, and the government taking responsibility for failure. The government is acting as the consumer, choosing between private companies in order to achieve a good balance between cost and quality that is liable to win them votes from the ultimate consumer, the public. Unless Halliburton has made an offer, of course.

If the private sector is used at all, it needs to be under a great deal of publicly transparent government regulation, and the government needs to be held accountable for the quality of service. Then it will be to the benefit of shareholders for the company to act as an extension of the government's will, so that they will keep the contracts and not be forced out of business by public protest and government reaction. What we have with Diebold and company, with little or no federal regulation, frequently no paper trail, and with their source code being a trade secret... is a farce. It's an example of where privitisation just doesn't work, because it diminishes public accountability in our most sacred institution - democracy itself.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:10 PM on December 12, 2004


Transparency is definitely important, as is carefully crafting the feature list. But you need to compare the cost of lots of regulation to the potential loss due to not enough regulation. there is a point beyond which extra regulation doesn't help anyone.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:13 PM on December 12, 2004


I'm talking idealistically of course. In reality, Joe Evangelist on the street only cares about whether Bush is a good Christian or not. Democracy is nothing without education.

...hey, maybe creeping privitisation in schools IS a bad thing...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:14 PM on December 12, 2004


The change was never made, meaning that the machine's storage capacity remained at 3,005 ballots.

Sounds cleverly designed for plausible deniability. Now they can say, "oops, it wasn't a DESIGN problem, but a USER error..." (wink, wink).
posted by rushmc at 6:24 PM on December 12, 2004


What Saydur said. Hear hear.
posted by squirrel at 6:28 PM on December 12, 2004


Yeah, but you need to wait a whole week to find out your results

That's only because we dogsled the results into the capital igloo. Where did you get the one week idea from? We know the result same day. In fact we usually know the result before British Columbia closes it polls.

I think you are getting your voting misinformation mixed up with your healthcare misinformation.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 PM on December 12, 2004


In reality, Joe Evangelist on the street only cares about whether Bush is a good Christian

Wow. I get in now! Thanks P_G. Psst! By the way: "privatization"

Canada does a fine job with pencil and paper.

Yes, paper and pencil does seem pretty damn cheap and fool-proof. Except that the counting could get tricky I suppose, especially if there are a lot of different votes at the same time. Does Canada, like the US, usually vote for a dozen different things at the same time? Are results counted by humans or by machines? Wikipedia article on vote-counting systems

Brazil, which has open-source, electronic voting

Not open source, but it sounds interesting. Oh, but wait, Brazil has gone and privatized to greedy US corporations, oh nooo! I guess João Evangélico doesn't care...
posted by Turtle at 6:58 PM on December 12, 2004


RTFO? Me.... RTFO? Commodore 64's are know to max out at 3k votes... they should have used a C128.
posted by dancingbaptist at 6:59 PM on December 12, 2004


I think you are getting your voting misinformation mixed up with your healthcare misinformation

Goddamnit, I was wondering why my doctor kept prescribing me chads.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:38 PM on December 12, 2004


Wikipedia on voting machines lists advantages of electronic voting machines over manual ones: "spoiled ballots and overvoting are eliminated, undervoting is greatly reduced, and voting by the disabled becomes much easier, and can be done in private without assistance." It also lists disadvantages mentioned in this thread.

One problem that hasn't been mentioned is threats to privacy, which the interesting article on the electronic voting machines used in India further details. Other interesting tidbits: Indian machines are limited to 3840 votes and 64 candidates, and run on a power-failure-proof 6V battery. Other advantages of automatic over manual: no invalid votes, ballot box stuffing impossible, preferred by illiterates.

I suspect there's no going back to manual methods, but, as with all new technologies, debugging these systems and processes will take a while.

Also details of democratic practice are more locale-specific than one might think. The Swiss vote a lot, so they often vote by mail, and they're now experimenting with Internet voting.

Other European countries are experimenting too, with uncertain results so far:

But there's a wrinkle in all these ambitious plans: e-voting is far from foolproof. "The people managing these systems don't know anything about computer security," warns Jason Kitcat, an e-government expert at the University of Sussex, England, who spent three years designing a computer voting system before abandoning the project out of security concerns. "They are politicians wanting to look tech savvy."
posted by Turtle at 7:40 PM on December 12, 2004


Turtle: Does Canada, like the US, usually vote for a dozen different things at the same time? Are results counted by humans or by machines?

Local (municipal) elections sometimes have 20 or more issues on the same ballot. Ballot papers are of the connect-the-arrows-with-a-pencil type. Voters feed their ballots into an optical reader, which counts the votes and then drops the paper into a locked box. That way, the results are known as soon as the election closes, but there is still a paper backup copy in case a recount is called for.

That Wikipedia article needs updating.
posted by Deepspace at 9:29 PM on December 12, 2004


Did somebody say "world's greatest democracy"? In what novel sense of the word were they using "great"?

It's extraordinary how the richest, most advanced country in the world has such a third rate electoral system (the whole box and dice, from who gets to cast a vote through to who becomes President). Plenty of far less advanced nations manage to get it right. There's no excuse, it's just pathetic that something so important can be left in such a shambles.

While Australia is no shining light, our Australian Electoral Commissionruns all ballots (including for more than just a triennial executive government decision) and does so fairly, quickly and cheaply.
posted by wilful at 11:04 PM on December 12, 2004


What if a bank claimed it had this problem. It would be headline news and heads would roll. But where is the media outrage over voting? I am working with a group and yesterday we got out our first draft on voting reform. We are calling for the elimination of touch screen voting (except as they are adapted for voters with disabilities and always providing a voter verified receipt). This document is the beginnings of a manifesto. I just delivered 30 masters to a group of activists that are printing thousands of them to hand out to protesters (there are big protests in many state capitols today). We need to speak with a unified voice against this crap. approximately 50M votes were counted (or miscounted) by touch screen in the 2004 election.
posted by 0of1 at 1:22 AM on December 13, 2004


Other advantages of automatic over manual: no invalid votes, ballot box stuffing impossible, preferred by illiterates.

I can see where you are coming from with these potential benefits, but I don't agree that they actual result from the use of electronic/automatic voting:

No invalid votes - people can still press the wrong button. People can be very stupid. I'm not convinced that a touchscreen will be significantly less error-prone.

Ballot box stuffing impossible - how would you know? It all goes into a black box and some guy says who won. In contrast, with a paper election, I (the candidate) can have my party team see each box sealed, physically accompany it to each voting station, watch it all day, physically accompany it to the counting location, watch it be emptied, watch each vote being counted - and so can my opponent. Complete faith in the process.

Preferred by illiterates - I don't see why a picture (of the candidate or of their symbol) can't be put on the ballot paper for people who have problems with text. We do that here in the UK.
posted by alasdair at 3:16 AM on December 13, 2004


I took the LSAT a couple of weeks ago and I was struck by how efficient and organized the whole process was. Americans are sure used to standardized testing of the fill-iin-the-bubble type, so why can't we use that for voting, and get the LSAT people to administer it? They certainly have the experience.

Voters feed their ballots into an optical reader, which counts the votes and then drops the paper into a locked box. That way, the results are known as soon as the election closes, but there is still a paper backup copy in case a recount is called for.

Deepspace, that's what we have in Maine. It's the first state I've lived in with that type of voting and I love it. Fast, easy, accurate, and verifiable.
posted by miss tea at 5:05 AM on December 13, 2004


20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA (from Kos)
posted by amberglow at 5:19 AM on December 13, 2004


Truly scary ag.
posted by bardic at 6:29 AM on December 13, 2004


Smoking Gun of Election Fraud is in Ken Blackwell’s Hand "Did you get that America ? The Secretary of State of Ohio, who has an obvious conflict of interest by being the State Chair for the reelection of George W. Bush, has now violated the law to stop a recount that could prove that Bush actually lost Ohio, and thus the entire presidential election. Where in the hell is the media?"
posted by dinsdale at 8:24 AM on December 13, 2004


At Ohio rally today, Cobb has asserted that a Triad tech was allowed to tamper with the Central Tabulator over the weekend ... best link i've found so far. why haven't the machines been secured!? blackwell is just becoming blatant.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:26 AM on December 13, 2004


Here's some more details on The Greene Country Lockdown from William Rivers Pitt.
posted by dinsdale at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2004




Amberglow, those 20 facts should be an FPP.
posted by squirrel at 8:20 PM on December 17, 2004


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