Major Voting Problems in Ohio

Wanna get scared about the upcoming election? Read this Wired article. I dismissed all this talk of election fraud for the last two years as just being an outlandish conspiracy theory, but the more I see reports like this the more real it becomes. And nothing less than our entire system of government is at stake.

The reports, totaling more than 500 pages, paint a disturbing picture of how million-dollar equipment and security safeguards can quickly be undone by poor product design, improper election procedures and inadequate training. From destroyed ballots and vote totals that didn't add up to lost equipment and breaches in security protocols, Cuyahoga's primary is a perfect study in how not to run an election.

The findings have ominous national implications. Cuyahoga County could play an important role in deciding two races in next week's election that will help decide which party controls the Senate and House. But one of the reports concluded that problems in the county were so extensive that meaningful improvements likely could not be achieved before that election, or even before the 2008 presidential election.

The list of problems reported in one county alone is simply staggering. From the first report:

* Due to poor chain of custody for supplies and equipment, 812 voter-access cards (which voters place in touch-screen machines to cast their ballot) were lost, along with 215 card encoders, which program the voter-access cards. Three hundred thirteen keys to the voting machines' memory-card compartments, where votes are stored, also went missing.

* Officials set up two user accounts on the computer running vote-tabulation software, then assigned one password to both accounts and allowed multiple people to use them, thwarting any effort to identify individuals who might access and alter the system.

* Sixty Board of Election employees took touch-screen machines home a weekend before the election to test a procedure for transmitting data on election night.

* The election board hired 69 taxis to transport observers to precincts to collect memory cards and paper rolls on election night. But many cab drivers ended up gathering the materials themselves, and about half the cabs returned to the warehouse with election data, but no observer.

* In at least 79 precincts the number of voters who signed the poll books didn't match the number of ballots cast. At least eight precincts had more ballots cast than registered voters. Because some polling places served several precincts, some of the discrepancies are explained by voters being directed to the wrong machines, an error that did not result in uncounted votes. But even when investigators tallied ballots and signatures for all precincts in a polling place, 15 locations still had mismatches. In one case investigators found 342 more voters than ballots.

That's one report. From one county. The second report, from a company hired to audit the results in that same county, was just as bad. Maybe worse. How about this:

Out of 467 touch-screen machines assigned to 145 precincts that ESI audited, officials couldn't locate 29 machines after the election, despite days of searching. And 24 machines that were found had no data on them. "All their paperwork says (the machines) were deployed to polling locations but we can't figure out why there's no election data on them," says ESI founder Steve Hertzberg...

Beyond sloppy procedures, the ESI report found technological problems with the printers installed on the county's 5,000 new Diebold touch-screen machines. The printers produce the voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, mandated by a new Ohio law.

The printer problems turned up when the ESI team set out to examine the accuracy of the touch-screen machines. The team compared four sets of vote data from a sampling of 145 precincts. The data included electronic votes recorded on removable memory cards (used to tally the official count); electronic votes on flash memory inside the touch-screen machines; individual ballots on the paper-audit trail rolls; and a summary total of those ballots printed at the end of the paper roll.

Although the majority of the paper rolls were easy to read, 40 rolls contained ballots that were physically compromised in some way: Rolls were crumpled accordion-style due to paper jams; ballots were printed atop one another, making them illegible; rolls were torn and taped. Eighty-seven rolls were missing entirely.

I guess we don't have to worry about programming problems or user error when the entire freaking machine is gone. The article understates the obvious:

Experts say the chaos in Cuyahoga is a bellwether of broader election-administration problems nationwide.

"It should be a general wake-up call for all states and localities to make sure they have addressed these problems in their statutes and procedures to make sure that they don't run into the same problems," says Thad Hall, a political science professor at the University of Utah who assisted with the ESI report. "People should be taking all of this very seriously."

I'll say. And Ohio is one of the states that actually took this seriously and passed a law requiring that paper ballots be printed as a double check. In some states, there is no paper record at all in many precincts. Where is the outcry over this? Does the public care at all?

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After last week's New Hampshire primaries, I've gotten a lot of email requesting my take on the uproar surrounding recounts and voting machines. For those who haven't heard, there's been some chatter about cheating in the election. In polls leading up to the election, Barack Obama was leading by…

Not to come off as an asshole, but I think the public outrage is in the same place yours was not all that long ago - conspiracy theory land. Too many just easily dismiss these issues as consiracy theories - because it sounds like one. The problem is that even paranoid conspiracy theories can occasionaly be true.

I don't think you have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned. It's just as bad if votes are lost through negligence as it is through malice.

I don't understand why we're creating a system where it's harder to cast and tabulate votes than with paper ballots. I really don't.

By Kenneth Fair (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

And here people keep calling me crazy because I'm convinced the last two presidential elections were out-and-out stolen.

By gary l. day (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

I don't understand why we're creating a system where it's harder to cast and tabulate votes than with paper ballots. I really don't.

???

I'll give you a few:

1. Business interests -- Lobbyist have successfully codified electronic voting as the only thing that satisfies the needs of disabled Americans. Plus there's the money being transported from the US treasury to private accounts with systemic redesign. And political stability is good for the economy I hear.

2. Political Interests -- When redistricting and gerrymandering isn't doing it for you, send in the shock troops with the memory cards to make things right as rain. It's WWJD.

3. Cultural interests -- true patriots must defend America's moral values from America hating liberals. Subverting the will of the people to save them from the godless liberals is justified, but only for those with intestinal fortitude and a willingness for personal sacrifice. What good American wouldn't fall on a grenade to save his fellow Americans from the cultural enemy? I'll tell you -- The liberals wouldn't -- they'd send the uneducated children of the Republicans to sacrifice themselves.

4. The influence of the global dentite conspiracy. Shhh.

By double-soup tuesday (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

I know this is a weird analogy, but while reading this I was reminded of the response to Hurricane Katrina. The people in charge know all about the potential problems in New Orleans, they're on top of things, and this is the 21st century. Technology, the information age, education levels, having the advantage of learning from past mistakes, all sorts of watchdogs and experts and gadgets getting easier and easier to use. We Americans have gotten pretty used viewing our lives to the theme song "Things Just Keep Getting Better."

While reading the excerpt, I felt a sense of deja-vu -- a sort of bewildered slackjawed confusion, like when I read about the crack planning and response which went into Katrina Disaster Relief.

gary, I wouldn't have called you crazy. Tons of questionable things happened during those elections and the media barely noticed. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican but I still feel that if that's who were voted in then that's who should serve. The election process is something we should cherish whether our candidate gets voted in or not.

I used to participate a little in forums at www.skepticfriends.org and remember a thread that listed a bunch of stuff on possible fraud.
http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=3405

Links to articles start at the end of page 2. Read through the thread when you get a chance and decide for yourself if it's a conspiracy theory.

Blech. Almost enough to make me stop voting. Like that'll ever happen, but I am going to demand a paper ballot at my polling station next week. And next year, I should vote absentee.

And next year, I should vote absentee.

Well OK, but in many places the absentee votes are fed into electronic voting machines or are hand input into them. Feel better about that?

A tidbit from today -- some state absentee ballots require two stamps but the instructions don't indicate that. Whoops.

By double-soup tuesday (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

Three hundred thirteen keys to the voting machines' memory-card compartments, where votes are stored, also went missing.

\

Aww, it's no big deal. The exact same key opens all of the machines anyway.

Everyone needs to see this. Take ten minutes out of your day and watch Clinton Curtis's testimony on election hacking.

It happened, Ohio and Florida both were probably stolen in 2004, and it's going to happen again. I'm making a prediction, localized because I've been in the area since August but I expect you'll see the same thing in several districts around the country:

In the Maryland Senate race, Ben Cardin (Democrat) will lead the exit polls within the margin of error. When the votes are counted, Michael Steele (Republican) will be the winner.

I so hope that I'm wrong.

By FishyFred (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

Messed up the HTML on the Clinton Curtis link. It's on Google Video right here.

By FishyFred (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

Honestly I get a little sick of this. It is a cycle that has been going on for six years. In 2000, 2002, 2004, and now, we see it over and over again. After the election, when the results are "shocking" and "surprising" there will be complaints filed, lawsuits filed, and news reports followed by GOP talking heads insisting that there are no problems, that it's just "sour grapes," etc. etc. etc. Within a couple of weeks the average American will have forgotten about it returning to the "important" things like who will win the next Survivor and who will be America's Next Idol. Then the cycle will begin in 2008 right before McCain shockingly, against all odds, wins the presidency.

Honestly, there was no:
-removal of thousands of voters from Florida's rolls
-there were no checkpoints in "specific" neighborhoods or signs that said you better have all parking tickets, etc. paid before you vote.
-nothing happened to any of the machines in Florida
-and those cheating Democrats tried to get multiple recounts violating Florida law!

-there were no continued problems in 2002 in Florida
-no one was still off the rolls even after they proved that they weren't John Smith who is currently in jail in Ohio

-there were no problems in Ohio, California, Texas, Florida (again ... these liberal lies), etc. etc. etc.

No... silly Americans, none of this happened, look, Janet Jackson's nipple! Hey, I think Paula Abdul is drunk again! I have a great new idea for Survivor, we actually kill someone this season!!!

By dogmeatIB (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

I've got a better idea for Survivor -- get rid of those paper ballots and let them use the Ohio voting machines. That ought to mess up all the alliances and strategies, but good..

Paper ballot marked with felt pen and read by a scanner. Best election system ever. The only reason to use electronic voting machines is to subvert elections and put money into the pockets of corporate donors to politicians.

Great post, Ed. You know there are a lot of things going on in the world that deserve discussion, but how many of them are meaningful if our elections are not reliable? Free and fair elections are the very basis of democracy -- every democracy. Why don't more people care about them?

[[ Where is the outcry over this? Does the public care at all? ]]

Why should anyone care? Sometimes your naivete surprises me, Ed. There's no outcry because nobody with any sense expects anything else anymore. So electronic voting machines provide a new way to rig elections. So what? Rigged voting machines are just the latest trick in a long and (dis)honorable tradition that goes at least as far back as the 'rotten boroughs' and 'pocket boroughs' of England three hundred years ago.

Nobody cares now because most of the electorate is tired of the hypocrisy coming from both sides. Partisans for both sides weep and whine and gnash their teeth about long lists of frauds committed by the other side, while resolutely refusing to address the frauds being committed by their own side. (Don't anybody bother trying to tell me that only the Other Side commits fraud, and their side is pure as virgin snow. Anybody who thinks either party's hands are clean is living in a dream world.) Most "corrective measures" proposed by either side are calculated primarily to benefit their supporters and disparage the opponent's. And the great mass of voters are so sick of it all that over forty percent of us don't bother to vote at all anymore.

The day that we return to electing leaders who care about America first and their party second, we'll get a chance to have honest voting again. Not a minute before.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 02 Nov 2006 #permalink

The day that we return to electing leaders who care about America first and their party second, we'll get a chance to have honest voting again.

But only the people on my side are real Americans.
[\sarcasm]

Ed: I've been following this story for months. Three things convinced me it wasn't a 'whacko conspiracy theory.'
First was the San Diego sleepovers, where poll workers were told to take machines home with them for a week or more during the special election, because they didn't have money to store them securely. (I should mention that the same thing is happening during the current election.)
Second was the Brennan Institute report on vulnerabilities in the machine -- coupled with the existence of wireless components that meant they could be affected from a distance.
Third was the coverage given by Lou Dobbs. (I disagree with him on most things, but the last thing he can be called is a 'left-wing conspiracy theorist.'

Since then, almost every one of the statements by the people pushing this idea have been confirmed elsewhere. This week has not just produced the article in Wired but in Arstechnica http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061101-8131.html
and several in Computer World, most particularly a review of tonight's HBO documentary by Brad Friedman. (Brad was considered the worst of the conspiracy theorists, but so far, except for the Chad Curtis story -- which is still open -- everything he has reported has later been confirmed. Some of his commenters have ideas that are a little strange, but not Brad.)

The HBO documentary, and the number of other demonstrations about hackability have shown this really is a serious danger. (And, in fact, there have been several reports from different states all stating that people who have attempted to vote Democratic have checked the summary sheets and seen their votes listed as Republican -- and who knows how many people have simply not checked this out.

No, Ed, this is not craziness. I wish it were. I'd be sleeping a lot better these next few nights if it was.

Blackwell's been cheating for years. Does anybody think he'll stop now?

I'm disappointed in the usage of the phrase "outlandish conspiracy theory". There's been plenty of evidence of shady election doings for the past six years. Denying that = sticking one's head in the sand.

I'll now join in with what JS said in a comment here.
It looks like that when the machines are working correctly that's more or less the end of secret votes as the votes are recorded on a roll of paper where you can check in which order votes are cast and correlate that with the order in which people vote. I thought the paper trail would be printed on individual paper slips.

From Scott Adams blog:

I think about the history of ATMs when I hear all the nervous Nellies wetting their pants over electronic voting machines. I believe those worries are totally misplaced. Now don't get me wrong - there's a 100% chance that the voting machines will get hacked and all future elections will be rigged. But that doesn't mean we'll get a worse government. It probably means that the choice of the next American president will be taken out of the hands of deep-pocket, autofellating, corporate shitbags and put it into the hands of some teenager in Finland. How is that not an improvement?

Statistically speaking, any hacker who is skilled enough to rig the elections will also be smart enough to select politicians that believe in . . . oh, let's say for example, science. Compare that to the current method where big money interests buy political ads that confuse snake-dancing simpletons until they vote for the guy who scares them the least. Then during the period between the election and the impending Rapture, that traditionally elected President will get busy protecting the lives of stem cells while finding creative ways to blow the living crap out of anything that has the audacity to grow up and turn brownish.

The important thing with democracy - and this has always been the case - is that the citizens a) Believe the election result is based on the common sense and voting rights of the citizens, and b) Have enough handguns to wax any politicians who gets too seriously out of line (also known as a "check and balance").

My bolded emphasis. I like the touch that the competent hacker that improves democracy is from Finland. We could do much worse with Russian or Bulgarian hackers.