Arkansas Election Officials Baffled by Machines That Flipped Race
Wired News (05/29/08) Zetter, Kim
Election officials in Faulkner County, Arkansas, are trying to determine how two voting machines allocated votes cast in one race to an entirely different race that was not even on the electronic ballot. The problem resulted in the wrong candidate being declared the winner in a state House race. Election commissioner Bruce Haggard says he does not understand how the error could have happened.
The error occurred on two touch-screen voting machines made by Election Systems & Software, which were the only machines used in Faulkner County’s East Cadron B voting precinct. Haggard says the night before the election officials noticed that the electronic ballot on the two machines was missing the State House District 45 race, so officials printed paper ballots to be used just for that race in the precinct. Voters used the machines to cast votes for other races, and cast paper ballots for the District 45 race, but a post-election examination revealed that despite the fact that the electronic ballots on the two machines did not display the District 45 race, the machines recorded votes for that contest.
Officials eventually determined that the machines took votes cast in the Cadron Township Constable race and put them in the non-existent District 45 race. Haggard says officials were able to determine where the votes came from because the machines produced a voter-verifiable paper audit trail, which correctly showed that there was no District 45 race on the ballot and therefore there were no votes cast in that race on the machines. Haggard says he expects ES&S to provide a reason for why the machines distributed the votes incorrectly, and he has asked the secretary of state’s office to conduct an examination with ES&S, which Haggard says will likely take place in June.
E-Voting Vendor’s Web Site Hacked
IDG News Service (03/20/08) Montalbano, Elizabeth; McMillan, Robert
Sequoia Voting Systems’ e-voting Web site has been hacked, stirring uproar from New Jersey officials that used the Ballot Blog in a February presidential primary. Princeton University computer science professor Edward Felten reported the breach, following an inquiry from a state county clerks coalition to investigate the e-voting system. Evidence of the infiltration was apparent because the hacker had inserted a message with a cyber tag name. The system was temporarily suspended and users were redirected to a hosting-provider page, but Sequoia later brought the blog back online.
“My guess is that they took the site down temporarily while they were clearing out the stuff left behind by the intruder,” Felten says. The county clerks have asked New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram to probe Sequoia Voting Systems AVC Advantage e-voting machines, due to discrepancies in vote counts during the primary. Sequoia says different vote totals were due to poll worker mistakes and warned Felten against investigating it further.
That last sentence is the scary one.
People, the only way to truly secure a computer is to unplug it from the internet. With an issue as important as voting, we need a paper trail. I don’t care if hand counting takes longer. Correct, honest results are worth waiting for.
Apostrophes in Names Stir Lot o’ Trouble
Associated Press (02/21/08) Odriscoll, Sean
Despite their sophistication, computers are still often confused when an apostrophe appears in a name, which can cause problems for users when they to vote, schedule appointments, rent a car, book a flight, or take a college exam. In addition to names with apostrophes, names with hyphens and names with surnames such as “van” can also cause problems.
Permission Data’s Michael Rais says the problem is sloppy programming. “It’s standard shortsightedness,” he says. “Most programs set a rule for first name and last name. They don’t think of foreign-sounding names.” Rais says problems normally arise in two ways. First, online forms often have a filter that searches for unfamiliar terms that might be a mistake or a joke and might automatically block a last name with an apostrophe, hyphen, or space.
Second, if the computer system is sophisticated enough to accept unusual last names, the names must be stored in the database, where a hyphen or apostrophe can be mistaken for a piece of computer code, corrupting the system.
During the 2004 Michigan caucus, thousands of voters with names such as O’Connor, Al-Hussein, and Van Kemp did not have their votes counted. The technical problem is difficult to correct because computer systems have numerous ways of recognizing names. “It depends on the form filters and it depends on the database program,” Rais says.