Recounting Touch-Screen Elections In Ohio

from the problems-galore dept

Joseph Beck writes "Here in the Cleveland area there are a few election races that must be recounted because the final results were close. The county uses touchscreen machines from Diebold. The machines print a paper ballot that is reviewed by the voter. State law calls for those paper ballots to be used for the recount. The problem is, some of those ballots did not print properly because of paper jams and malfunctions, and are not readable. The Ohio Secretary of State has declared that those votes can be counted by simply reprinting the paper ballot from the memory card. Of course that defeats the purpose of a voter-verified audit trail, but she says it is acceptable. The next day the news came out that the number of unreadable ballots was actually 20% of all ballots. A spokesman for Diebold said "That is a percentage that prompts us to do further investigation." I'm sure they'll get right on it."

Anyone want to take odds on how long it will take before Diebold or another e-voting supporter uses this failure as an example of why they were better off without a voter-verifiable paper trail in the first place? Diebold and others have always used the "well, paper receipts jam" excuse in the past, meaning the companies have little incentive to come up with ways to prevent such paper jams.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    ehrichweiss, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:07am

    to be fair..

    "Diebold and others have always used the "well, paper receipts jam" excuse in the past, meaning the companies have little incentive to come up with ways to prevent such paper jams."

    To be fair, even printer manufacturers haven't managed to prevent jams...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:10am

    Re: to be fair..

    To be realistic however, there is no excuse for 20% failure rate.

     

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  3.  
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    dextrocardia, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Re: to be fair..

    Have you ever had the receipt jam on an ATM? I've been using those for 20+ years, and I've never had that happen. I'm not saying it never happens, but it's gotta be pretty rare.

     

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  4.  
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    Ferin, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:23am

    Different machine?

    I vote in Franklin county, so I can't say if our machines are the same or not, but the machiens we've been using print the ballot out as you make selections, and the printout along a clear plastic window so you can verify it. If they're using a similar system, why not just ask to switch to a new ballot if you notice the receipt is printing out wrong?

     

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  5.  
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    Rich Kulawiec, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:40am

    One person who needs to lose their job...

    ...is the Ohio Secretary of State, who has clearly failed
    to grasp even the most rudimentary concept of what
    it means to conduct an audit. This begs the
    question, "what other similarly appallingly incompetent
    decisions has this person been responsible for?"

     

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  6.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Nov 29th, 2007 @ 9:57am

    Sorry but WTF

    Does that whole, you know:
    "The machines print a paper ballot that is reviewed by the voter"
    Shouldn't they notice that their ballot didn't print out right?
    I do not want to assume Ohio has an intelligence problem, but how can they not know that 20% failed until a recount is required if its supposed to print out so that the voter can verify.
    Seriously, I just don't get that.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 10:08am

    Re: Re: to be fair..

    Diebold makes ATM's...

     

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  8.  
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    Reddy Watt, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 10:23am

    How have cash registers not been replaced yet?

    I'd say about 20% of the cash register receipts I get from stores are jammed or unreadable. No, wait, I'm wrong there. Maybe 1%, and then I ask for it to be reprinted in case I need to use it for a return.

     

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  9.  
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    Doug B., Nov 29th, 2007 @ 11:04am

    Voter Responsibility?

    Voters may not be aware that, in these cases, they have the responsibility to verify that a legible receipt was printed. One way to avoid this is to have the screen display a message reminding each voter to check the receipt.

    However, Diebold, or whoever was responsible for the programming of these machines should have provided print device issue handling (physical jam, low toner, out of receipt paper, etc.) in the first place. Discounting the ballot to be printed, disabling voting until the issue is resolved, and instructing the voter to alert a poll official and re-cast their vote at another machine or after the issue is resolved come to mind as sensible things that voting machines like should do.

     

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  10.  
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    Vincent Clement, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 11:33am

    Ugh.

    Imagine the uproar from financial institutions and customers if ATMs printed out unreadable receipts 20% of the time?

     

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  11.  
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    Kevin, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 11:46am

    Re: One person who needs to lose their job...

    One person who needs to lose their job... ...is the Ohio Secretary of State, who has clearly failed to grasp even the most rudimentary concept of what it means to conduct an audit. This begs the question, "what other similarly appallingly incompetent decisions has this person been responsible for?"

    Thank you for your in-depth analysis. By now I'm sure you're aware that the Ohio Secretary of State is Jennifer Brunner, who has been in office for less than a year after the incumbent Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (prominent Bushie and Diebold-o-phile) left office to unsuccessfully run for Governor. So the issue that exists isn't really one of her creation, though she is forced to deal with it.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much choice she has in dealing with it. It seems that the three options are:

    a. Allow them to recount all of the data using the memory cards.

    b. Allow them to recount only the paper receipts, throwing out all receipts that were mangled or misprinted and thereby disenfranchising 20% of the voters.

    c. Allow them to recount all of the paper receipts, and in the case of a mangled or misprinted receipt allow them to reprint that receipt from the memory card.

    I think that option c is the best choice, and apparently so did she. So what's your problem with it?

     

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  12.  
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    Ferin, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 11:47am

    Re: One person who needs to lose their job...

    The current secretary of state was not the one responsible for this mess. You can lump that blame on Blackwell, our previous secretary. Bruner's not great, but she's at least making some moves to fix some of the problems.

     

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  13.  
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    Joseph Beck, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 12:18pm

    Voter Verification

    Ferin and Doug B,

    The machines in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) work the same as the Franklin County machines.

    When you are done voting, the ballot is printed and is displayed behind a plastic window. It is printed on a continuous roll of paper, like a receipt printer. You are supposed to review the printed ballot and then press a button on the screen to finalize your vote. This causes the printed ballot to roll up out of view.

    Somehow 20% of voters in the recount areas pressed that "finalize" button without actually seeing their printed ballot. Something is seriously wrong with this process.

     

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  14.  
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    PerroPerdido, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 12:23pm

    Re: to be fair..

    I work with receipt printers every day. If one jams or prints unradably, you can fix the jam and reprint on the spot.

     

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  15.  
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    Shun, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 12:29pm

    Why does Diebold continue to exist?

    I don't understand how a company which failed so miserably (nice interpretation) or was actively complicit in robbing the American People of a fair vote (nasty interpretation), is still in business, making voting machines. They should stick to ATM's which don't rob you every time you pull out cash (the bank takes care of that, ha ha) and slot machines (who knows, maybe they'll have better luck with these). Honestly, we cannot trust a company with this kind of record and reputation with even a kindergarten class election, much less a local, state, or federal election.

    This situation is akin to totally trusting Master Locks, if Master Locks made easily pickable locks, nobody trusted them, and nobody cared, because nobody else makes locks. Also, if there was a company making windows which shattered at the touch of a finger, would you continue to use them as your window supplier? Geez, people. I thought I was getting smarter. It turns out everybody else is just getting stupider.

    Diebold should be banned from doing any work with the Government of Ohio. Maybe the Government of U.S., but that won't happen any time soon. They should administer the upcoming election in Pakistan. That's more up Diebold's alley.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: to be fair..

    Good point. I have NEVER had a receipt jam in over 20 years using an ATM either !

    But ATM's keep track of money. Money is worth something. Apparently our votes are not.

     

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  17.  
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    Dizzley, Nov 30th, 2007 @ 2:01am

    How to verify the vote

    Isn't it easy enough for a voting machine to ask the voter if he/she is happy that the receipt properly reflects their choice?

     

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  18.  
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    Danny, Nov 30th, 2007 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: to be fair..

    Excellent point (about ATM's lack of jamming).

    I've worked with ticket printers (I used to do systems support at Ticketmaster). They also rarely jam (sometimes, but well well under 1%). Heavier card stock might contribute to a solution.

    But I suspect the reason voting jam rates are much higher than ATM jam rates are that voting machines are moved and re-installed before each election. The biggest point of risk for hardware failure is immediately after installation when all the equipment is physically manhandled.

    Given the mass quantity of voting machines that have to be set up in just hours before an election, it is likely that only marginally trained people are doing the installation. So, the possibility of human installation error is fairly large.

    Given that, even ATM or ticketing technology is prone to failure at a fairly high rate during the first day of use.

    If my assumptions above are correct, the best solution would be some sort of "black box" solution when receipt paper is installed, tested, and locked into place at the factory. This *might* reduce voting booth installation failures, but would raise the cost of the machines AND would lead some to suspect nefarious activity at the factory.

    This is a tough problem to solve.

     

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  19.  
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    Dave Beck, Nov 30th, 2007 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re: One person who needs to lose their job...

    Clearly any use of the corrupted memory cards means that the audit is invalid if the card data is used (I only say corrupted since the audit is to prove it is not corrupted.)

    Statistically option b would represent the voting population assuming paper jams were not induced by voter selections (not that would be a great con).

    I vote option b as an audit with the provision that a study of the jammed votes be undertaken to determined the causes.

    I did this without a single day in office but with a clear understanding of the purpose of an audit, unlike J Brunner.

     

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  20.  
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    Doug B., Nov 30th, 2007 @ 10:27am

    Re: Voter Verification

    I agree. My suspicion is that the voters were unaware of their responsibility to verify the ballot, even with a displayed message asking if they were satisfied with their vote. Unless the message expressly tells the voter to check the printed ballot, they may not even be aware that an attempt to print one was made, and assume that the message is simply a kind of "Are you sure?" double check (as in MS Office, where closing a document with unsaved changes provokes the appearance of such a warning).

    I realize that even in the best of cases, this can't always be helped. Just like the MS Office unsaved changes warning, some people won't actually read the message, and just select whatever, no matter what they've been told or how many times it's been demonstrated to them. But I think that with explicit displays, reminders, and print-issue detection, they'd be able to improve that verified bad ballot rate.

     

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