Paper trail flawed in election, study finds

A report questioning the accuracy of Diebold Election Systemse-voting equipment in a recent Ohio electiongives more ammunition to critics who doubt the viability of electronic voting technology.

The report, issued publicly this week, was based on a studyfunded by the Board of Commissioners of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Itclaimed that even backup paper records meant to assure voters thattheir votes were tabulated correctly can prove inaccurate.

Nearly 10 percent of the paper copies of votes cast in theelection were “either destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, tapedtogether or otherwise compromised,” the report said. Ohio lawrequires that each machine include a so-called voter-verified paper audit trail listing each vote — andconsiders that the official ballot.

“There are some serious process issues that need to beaddressed,” said Steven Hertzberg, project director at the Election Science Institute, which conducted thestudy of a May 2 primary election in Cuyahoga County.

ESI is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded in2002 to promote the development of auditable election systems andhelp ensure that all votes cast are counted accurately.

“What we found is that when you take this [technology] out ofthe lab and put it in a real work environment with real voters,you’re going to have some issues you need to resolve,” Hertzbergsaid.

The May 2 election marked the first use of Diebold’s AccuVoteTSx touch-screen systems in the county, which includes Clevelandand surrounding communities.

In a letter to the county commissioners, Hertzberg said thestudy found that voters did benefit from the e-voting systems,noting that the Diebold machines are easier to use than thepunch-ballot systems they replaced. However, use of the TSxequipment should currently be viewed as a calculated risk for thecounty, he warned.

For example, the report said that 72 percent of the pollingplaces demonstrated a discrepancy between the electronic record onmemory cards and the paper ballots; 42 percent of the discrepanciesinvolved problems with 25 votes or more.

ESI also told county officials that some of the votingequipment, including 87 paper rolls and 28 voting machines, wasfound to be missing prior to the start of the study. Therefore, theinstitute’s report concluded that it is “unable to give adefinitive opinion of the accuracy of the Diebold TSx system.”

The report also suggested that printer malfunctions could cause”profound” election problems. Such problems could be caused bypaper jams or rolls improperly loaded on to the machines. Thereport urged extensive training of personnel, printer testing andthe creation of contingency plans in case of printermalfunction.

A Diebold spokesman this week questioned the methodology used inthe study. For instance, he contended that the discrepanciesbetween the paper ballots and electronic records were caused bymatching paper votes with the wrong memory cards.

The spokesman also contended that ESI failed to take intoaccount special procedures used for some voters, such as17-year-olds allowed to vote on selected ballot questions who usedseparate memory cards.

In addition, the Diebold spokesman charged that ESI and thecounty commissioners released the report publicly despite hearingof the possible flawed methods earlier from Diebold officials.

In an August 16 letter sent to the county commissioners, MichaelLindroos, Diebold’s vice president and counsel, said that theAllen, Texas-based company was “surprised and dismayed” by thepublication of the report and noted that ESI did not let the vendorparticipate in the analysis of the election. “Diebold ElectionSystems equipment is reliable and accurate,” Lindroos said.

The county expected some problems to be found in the study,considering that the election marked the first use of the TSxmachines there, said Hugh Shannon, government service coordinationmanager for the county.

Shannon said the commission, ESI, Diebold and the election board”have agreed to meet and work through the issues of the report andhave some more definitive answers by the end of the month to planfor [the] November [election].”

A spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell saidthe Diebold machines have been tested and certified by both thestate and federal governments.

“The problems in the primary in Cuyahoga County were problemswith the procedures and poll worker training,” Blackwell said.

This report underscores that voting machines aren’t used in avacuum, noted Michael Shamos, a professor who specializes ine-voting and security issues at Carnegie Mellon University inPittsburgh. The devices are used as part of a huge system ofpeople, laws and procedures, he said.

Shamos noted that the paper trails didn’t guarantee a safe,reliable election. “When machines fail,” he said, “the paper traildoesn’t work, either.”

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