Ohio Sues Diebold/Premiere Over Lost E-Voting Votes

from the instead-of-a-fine,-the-lost-votes-would-be-great dept

You may recall late last year that an investigation in Ohio turned up that all e-voting machines used in the state during the 2004 election had malfunctioning problems. Earlier this year, officials declared machines from that election a crime scene to be investigated, and now Ohio has filed a lawsuit against Premiere Election Solutions, the company better known as Diebold (it changed its name after tons of bad press).

Premiere/Diebold, of course, were at the heart of early stories about e-voting machine flaws, and the company consistently fought against anyone who suggested there was anything wrong with its machines, despite overwhelming evidence. Instead, it tried to bully those who spoke out against the company, or paint them as extremist kooks. Yet, with each passing story, it appears that the concerns were very, very real. As per usual, Premiere/Diebold is doing little to actually address the issues in this particular lawsuit, claiming:

“We certainly feel strongly that we, in fact, have fulfilled the contract with the state of Ohio. It’s a high-quality voting system that continues to operate in many, many Ohio counties with great success.”

I’m not sure if the “contract” allowed for completely dropping votes, but assuming it did, that’s hardly something to brag about. Also, pointing out that other states use the same machines isn’t a defense — it should be an alarm for those other states to start investigating as well. Other than that, Premiere/Diebold has relied on its usual defense: “It wasn’t our fault!” Instead, the company claims that antivirus software interfered with the voting tabulation system. That’s a pretty weak excuse — especially since (as Ohio points out) the system was certified with antivirus software installed. Besides, what kind of software is Premiere/Diebold building if antivirus software causes it to lose votes? Not the type of software I’d want running my elections.

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Companies: diebold, premiere voting

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Comments on “Ohio Sues Diebold/Premiere Over Lost E-Voting Votes”

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48 Comments
formerelectionguy says:

Re: Re: Re:

I hate to break it to you, but your absentee ballot gets run through a Diebold machine. All ballots (in Ohio, MI and any other state using Diebold), touch screen or optical scan, are counted using essentially the same program, and accumulated by the same diebold program on the election manager’s computer.

Having used Diebold software and hardware for four years in conducting elections, I would have to say that Diebold’s claim of user error as a contributing factor is likely pretty accurate. The tabulation program is essentially an Access database with a slightly confusing interface. For those of you that use Access, you know that any change is automatically saved, which can lead to accidental, and even unknown entry errors. Managing the election database requires a lot of concentration and double checking. And those responsible for doing so are often appointed or elected officials, chosen for their partisan positions and not their technical skill or ability.

I’m not claiming that Diebold has made a great, or even decent, product; but identifying/labeling them as the main cause of voting problems ignores the fact that most of the problems that actually occur on election day and after are simple human mistakes. Diebold/Premiere should certainly be held accountable to make a high quality product, but we also need to hold our election officials accountable for using that product competently.

Jim says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The machine is very technically demanding so you blame the user? Diebold’s intended user was an election manager – blaming the user far Diebold’s fail seems odd to me.

Maybe the users did screw it up, but that is only another argument that the system isn’t a valid means of tabulating votes. If I make a car that has the brake and gas pedals switched and people start dying… would you blame the [dead] users?

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Good Lord, an election tabulating machine that uses a light weight DBMS like Access for the back end?

On top of which it appears that not only is the administration user interface confusing, which tells me far more than I wanted to know about Diebold’s talent for designing straight forward UI’s.

(Right up there with SAP, I bet.)

But also one that doesn’t have the old and well known safety valve of Save/Commit/Rollback?

And then they blame the user. (Do they work for the Vista apology team at Microsoft?)

Pardon me while I shake my head in disbelief.

Perhaps PES/Diebold got some free copies of XP to put on their voting machines?

I was wondering about the antivirus thing until this.

I’m also wondering who they blame if a machine BSODs on election day?

ttfn

John

Sean (user link) says:

You clearly misunderstood...

Sorry guys, I’m with Diebold/Premier on this one;

“the company claims that antivirus software interfered with the voting tabulation system”

Clearly those votes which were dropped were actually infected with some virus and got quarantined. It’s totally the fault of the voter, for not having good personal hygiene. They should really give out handwash at voting booths, like at hospitals.

Kevin says:

Re: Re: You clearly misunderstood...

Isn’t this the same Diebold/Premier that’s the world’s largest manufacturer of ATMs?

The biggest, I’m not sure. But definitely one of them. The difference is the bank and it’s army of professional accountants and bankers has a vested interest in making sure that an ATM dispenses the correct amount of money, every time. If the ATM doesn’t then the bank won’t buy them. When it comes to elections you have a handful of elected officials and/or volunteers who have to evaluate and use the systems. They typically don’t have technical experts on hand to review and test them, and the contracts are usually worked out between Diebold/Premiere, their lobbyists, and a government official or three. Unlike an ATM there isn’t a simple and obvious method of verifying that the machine is functioning correctly, and because they didn’t even want paper trails on voting machines (try not getting a paper trial on your ATM!), auditing them is very complicated as well.

In summary, ATMs are strictly controlled and audited and the users have a vested interest in making sure that they work. Voting machines are the opposite.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: You clearly misunderstood...

Quite true, the banks “force” Diebold to tow the line. But it also points to another question. Why isn’t Diebold being responsible in delivering a quality product?

Companies claim that “regulation” hurts them. Yet when they are “unrestrained” they simply take advantage of the consumer. Companies that abuse the free market through inferior products don’t deserve to operate.

Franssu says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You clearly misunderstood...

The funniest part is this : Companies don’t want to be regulated, as it cripples the market. But they see no problem in lobbying, price fixing and other monopolistic practises that also cripple the market.

Think about it, free market zealots. Everything is fine in a pure and perfect competition. When the market is not in that state, big playes tend to abuse from their advantage to put better players out of business, which is exactly the inverse of what a really free market would do.

Steve (profile) says:

Simple?

I’m not so sure it’s simple to count votes. I’m not from the US, but it seems that you guys have twenty or thirty different resolutions on the voting form, along with the actual vote you’re interested in. If you have to contend with simultaneous elections at the county, state and national level it would get harder.

With differing rules according to locality – remember how Florida disqualifies some felons, Texas executes you if you press two boxes, whatever – I’m sure the complexity would increase.

The excuses here are very limited – I mean, it would be possible to just make different systems for each state, with a common interface to allow national tabulation.

But I’ve learned from my time as a software engineer that nothing involving politicians is simple.

Jeff A (profile) says:

You mean eVoting is new to you?

Paper voting is new to me!

I started talking with friends about voting systems in ajacent counties, and everyone uses paper. This struck me as odd- my old city had electronic voting since at least 1985. The election officials only recently de-certified the machines. (Granted, not made by Diebold). But it makes you wonder about the past 23 years of votes.

Steve Jones says:

Why do all the crack pots always holler racism, and republicans rigging elections? I would bet my first born sons life that 90% or more of voter fraud is by democrats. I know I’ve witnessed Democrats going into nursing homes and filling out absentee ballots for ever patient in the place. I’ve seen them renting vans to drive people around to vote early and often. I’ve seen them passing out bottles of whiskey for votes. I’ve requested my dead grandmothers name be removed from the voter rolls, yet witnessed her name still on the books, and having a check mark buy it after every election. I’ve seen the democrats fight tooth and nail to prevent voter id laws, and voting machines because they know that will end their rain of terror on elections.

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:

I assume you are talking about the Florida hanging chad ballot? If so, it was approved by Democrats so if anything, they screwed themselves.

Then fast forward to the Dem primaries this year and their internal system is even worse than their complaints about the national system. Heck, they have “Super” delegates that can vote any way they want to. Talk about disenfranchising voters. It is great to see liberals mess themselves up and have no one to blame. 😉

Gunther says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The arrogance of the “Democrats” shows with the concept of super-delegates, who are apparently there because the “Democratic” party knows more about what the voters want than the voters themselves. Should the voters decide something that the “Democrats” don’t want, like say, nominating Obama, the super-delegates can cast their votes to overrule the primary and caucus voters. This is necessary, because clearly the “Democrats” are so much smarter than the rest of us.

Once the elections are over, politicians (of every stripe) will resume viewing citizens as whining pains-in-the-ass, who mostly just get in the way of collecting massive amounts of money from special interests, and voting favorably for the special interests, rather than representing citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m all for technological improvements in all areas of life but I still see the need for a paper trail on something as important as a major election. It’s not like anyone is checking who you vote for and coming to your house to strong-arm you – they can barely count them, let alone trying to correlate a ballot with an individual. Paper ballots are fairly efficient, anonymous, accurate (minus “the idiot factor”) and recountable. They don’t just vanish after a power interruption or anti-virus software error (wtf?). Aside from some bellyaching in Florida a couple years ago the current system wasn’t really broken and fixing it clearly just made it worse.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Windoze

It isn’t the OS’s fault it is the fault of developers who, it seems,couldn’t write a decent UI of their lives depended on it.

And the choice of a lightweight DBMS like Access as the back end simply compounds the problem.

(Rule #1 — A spreadsheet isn’t a database.
Rule #2 — A database isn’t a spreadsheet. )

While I’d be concerned that it runs Windows that wouldn’t rule it out completely.

I admit that I’d want it running something a bit more scaled to the task, say Linux or FreeBSD, but if it performs under pressure that’s fine.

The problem here is that it seems that Diebold can’t hire decent coders and THAT’s part of the problem.

ttfn

John

Anonymous Coward says:

Your logic is amazing! Do you work for Faux News writing for Bill-O? So the democrats sabotaged their own voters? That doesn’t seem to jive with the information we got from investigative reporter, Steve Jones. After all, he has personally witnessed the democrats carrying out their diabolical plans of voter coercion and fraud. They have quite a reign of terror going on here, that must be why Ohio voted for Bushy boy. Oh wait sorry, that was rain of terror…they must be seeding the clouds with vote-for-democrat drugs.

When do I get to collect on Steve’s wager? A little white republican slave boy sounds great to me! I’m going to send his ass to Iraq so at least ONE republican can get a clear sense of what is going on over there.

Diebold has already closed there plant here for a whopping loss of 100 jobs.

anon (user link) says:

get rid of all LCD's and programming/calibration

I think the Premiere Diebold Elections lead by David Byrd is a disgrace to USA. I read the Scoop copy of the Diebolt 2002 internal manual (Google: “Accuvote-TS manual”), pretty ugly stuff to read. I can not believe that any responsible state official hand over the election outcome to black-box voting machines like AccuVote-TS. As a software developer, I constantly wonder why on earth a voting machine needs to be configured, programmed, or in any way be “customized” for an election. A simple electronic circuitry without a running software would be less vulnerable to tampering. A simple number entry 1..9 could be used to increment counters, instead of silly touch screens that need “calibration” or any other kind of tweaking. Evert tweak, update, software downloads, etc that points were backdoors can be installed, excersized. Also: every “update” of voting box will pay salary of an Premiere Diebolt employee, whereas the revenue should stop at the point the electronics has been sold, not an endless stream of software tweaks, with nickel-dime at expense of taxpayers.

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