[LINK] Lost E-Votes Could Flip Napa Race

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at austarmetro.com.au
Sun Mar 14 19:57:32 EST 2004

Lost E-Votes Could Flip Napa Race  
By Kim Zetter
04:54 PM Mar. 12, 2004 PT
wired News

Napa County in Northern California said on Friday that electronic voting
machines used in the March presidential primary failed to record votes on
some of its paper ballots, which will force the county to re-scan over
11,000 ballots and possibly change the outcome of some close local races.

The glitch is the latest in a string of problems with the new generation of
electronic voting machines being rolled out across the United States.
Critics of the machines say they are inaccurate or susceptible to
tampering, and can't be trusted in this year's presidential elections.

The problem occurred with optical scan machines manufactured by Sequoia
Voting Systems, which failed to record voters' marks off of paper ballots.
The county used the company's Optech system for processing paper absentee

Napa Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said they discovered the problem on
Thursday while conducting a manual recount of 1 percent of precincts, to
verify accuracy, a statewide practice. Tuteur said after counting a sample
of 60 paper ballots from one precinct, officials discovered that the number
of votes did not match the number of votes the machine recorded for that
precinct. After re-scanning 10 of the ballots, they discovered that the
machine wasn't recording certain votes.

Sequoia spokesman Alfie Charles said the problem wasn't with his company's
machines. "It was a procedural error on the part of the people who were
setting up the equipment," he said.

Specifically, the machine was calibrated to detect carbon-based ink, but
not dye-based ink commonly used in gel pens, Charles said. Prior to the
election, a Sequoia technician ran test ballots through the machine to
calibrate its reading sensitivity, but failed to test for gel ink.

"The problem was isolated to the one machine in Napa and was detected and
properly calibrated within hours of identifying it," Charles said. "It's
important to note that the check and balances in place worked," referring
to the required manual recount.

Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a
nonprofit voter education organization, said the county was lucky that the
problem occurred on a system with a paper trail.

"If the problem had occurred with their electronic ballots or with the
tabulation software (that sits on the county server) they would have been
hard pressed to reconstruct their election," she said. "Or they might not
have ever known there was a problem at all. If they were doing the manual
count on the electronic ballots there would be no record to look at to
determine what the accurate vote count should be."

She added California is "one of a few if not the only state" that requires
a hand count.

"The reason we have the manual-count verification is precisely because
technology is not always reliable. There have been many instances like this
where the manual count has been instrumental in flagging a vote counting
problem," she said.

Tuteur said that as soon as the Sequoia technician recalibrates the
machine, the county would re-scan all the paper ballots.

At least one close race could be overturned. Incumbent county supervisor
Mike Rippey narrowly lost his re-election bid by only 50 votes.

"At this point in time we have no confidence in the results coming out of
these machines," said Rippey's campaign spokeswoman Linda Scott. "What
concerns us the most is that the count is so close on the absentee ballots
that it could sway the election results."

The primary was the third time the county had used the Sequoia machine,
Tuteur said.

"We don't know if this problem has occurred before but we're not aware of
any other problems," he said.

To read Wired News' complete coverage of e-voting, visit the Machine
Politics section <http://www.wired.com/news/evote/>.

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel
-- William J. Clinton


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at austarmetro.com.au

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