Palm Beach County Lost 3,400 Votes; Claims Different Sequoia Scanners Count Differently

from the are-they-serious? dept

For all the trouble surrounding e-voting, some folks believe that optical scan technologies that simply count the paper ballot votes are a decent solution. Of course, those optical scan technologies are often made by the same companies that make the e-voting equipment, and have been shown to have numerous problems going back many years. And, as per usual with these e-voting companies, they’ve been highly resistant to independent inspection of the systems. Perhaps that’s because the machines can’t do the one thing they’re supposed to do properly: count the votes.

Down in Palm Beach County, Florida (yes, the home of the infamous 2000 election year “butterfly ballot” with its hanging chads), officials are admitting that they’ve somehow lost about 3,400 ballots. But they don’t seem to be saying they physically lost the ballots — they’re saying that the optical scan machines, provided by Sequoia Voting Systems (no stranger to e-voting counting problems) count the ballots differently when the same ballots are run through different machines. In trying to explain how come a “recount” showed 3,400 fewer ballots than the original count, a county official explained:

The seven high-speed tabulating machines used in the recount are much more “unforgiving” than those that process votes on election day

Does that not seem highly problematic to people? Isn’t part of the point of these optical scan machines that they’ll count the ballots consistently? If everyone seems to admit that there’s an element of near total randomness (chalked up to how “unforgiving” the machines are) in these machines, isn’t that reason enough to question their usage at all? As for the election in question, it appears that officials have decided to throw up their hands at the controversy and certify the election, despite the fact that this “unforgiving” recount changed the results of the election. Update: Well, now officials are claiming that it wasn’t a technology problem but that they simply didn’t feed ballots into the machine. That’s not particularly comforting either — and it’s still troublesome that they would suggest that machines would count the votes differently in the first place.

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Companies: sequoia

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Comments on “Palm Beach County Lost 3,400 Votes; Claims Different Sequoia Scanners Count Differently”

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16 Comments
The Point (user link) says:

Re: Lazyness and Incompetence

Actually study after study has shown that a computer system is more accurate counting than an individual.

And the “problem” here is how you count where a person partially fills out a selection or has more than 1 selection filled out to some extent. Thus, derivations of the “hanging chad” idea. You can either throw them all out or try to guess as best you can on each, both are issues that can affect the solution if the percentages are close enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Audit, Audit, Audit

Any voting system, either electronic or manual, needs to be audited. That needs to be a routine part of an election. Too many local governments are cash-strapped (or lazy) and omit this vital step.

A major advantage of the marked paper ballots is that they CAN be audited. A pure touch screen system cannot. Even a touch screen with a hardcopy cannot be fully audited.

It is hard to understand why they would be having such a problem with this. Obviously one (or both) of the systems is not reading accurately. They ought to be able to sit some people down (they can probably get volunteers) and manually count a set of ballots. Each ballot should be counted by two or three humans. Compare the manual counts with the counts that the humans got. This should show where the problem lies.

Anonymous Coward says:

“They’ll have a smaller margin of error if they did it by hand, but that would be Work.”

It seems to me the idea that counting by hand, as opposed to using a computer, is the way to achieve the smallest margin of error is just counter intuitive? I think it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when America can’t even make a computer that can count anymore . . .

Anonymous Coward says:

Does that not seem highly problematic to people? Isn’t part of the point of these optical scan machines that they’ll count the ballots consistently?

No, that’s not the point of these machines. The point is to avoid responsibility for bad vote counting: “It’s not our fault! The machine did it!”

As for the election in question, it appears that officials have decided to throw up their hands at the controversy and certify the election, despite the fact that this “unforgiving” recount changed the results of the election.

Of course! Read what I wrote above.

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, I have a cheap $90 Lexmark scanner/printer, with some third party OCR software, and the only problem I ever encounter when using OCR is that I have to change the formatting a bit when converting to a .doc file (and sometimes some fancy fonts get confused).

Hell, my old school when I was 9 had an automated register system. Your name was on a piece of paper, and the teacher coloured in a little square next to it (one square for each day of the week), and the register was quickly scanned and bam, you instantly have the full week’s worth of who was absent and who wasn’t.

It’s hard to believe that an automated system as important as a vote counter, and as simple as *scanning an X in a box*, can be so fallible. It’s like they didn’t go with the lowest bidder, they actually kicked some guy’s door down and ordered him to make a vote counter from scratch.

zcat (profile) says:

OCR vs 'mark in box'

OCR is an order of magnitude harder than vote counting. The machine isn’t trying to recognise any of the writing on the ballot, it’s simply trying to identify if a small box in a predefined position on the ballot is ‘marked’ or ‘unmarked’

This should be trivially easy, and almost 100% consistent no matter what machine does it. Someone has screwed up big-time here.

6fingeredjake says:

This Is Exactly What Politicians Want!

The reason we can’t get an accurate voting system in place is because there is no politician in this country that actually wants a voting system that works.

Think about it: The second we find a tested system that is secure, accurate, and easy to use 100% of the time, the big 2 parties in this country will no longer be able to fight anything in court. If this machine is 100% correct all the time, that would mean that the person who the citizens voted for would actually win with no chance to manipulate the system… and that cannot happen in the Dems and Republicans view.

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