Monday, June 13, 2005


Why the UniLect voting machine was decertified in Pennsylvania

Via Rebecca Mercuri, we learn why Pennsylvania decertified Patriot UniLect (now there's a name for you) voting machines. The examiner states that (excerpts are not necessarily in order) Patriot is certified for use in 15 states and is actually in use in approximately 30 counties nationwide. In Pennsylvania it is used in Beaver, Greene and Mercer counties...In Patriot, each county is outfitted with a Patriot Central Station personal computer and software for defining ballots and writing InfoPacks, which are portable electronic memories used for transferring ballot configurations, vote totals, log files, and electronic audit trails....The precinct system includes a precinct control unit (PCU) that is capable of controlling up to 32 individual voting terminals...The PCU includes an internal printer that is used for producing the initial zero totals tape, precinct vote totals, a log file of election events and, when requested, a paper audit trail containing the contents of all ballots cast in randomized order. A Voter Unit consists of a resistive touchscreen, an internal processor and a socket from which the unit receives power and communicates ballots to the PCU. Under control of an election judge, the PCU uploads a multi-page ballot to the Voter Unit. The voter votes by touching the screen, navigating through the ballot and making selections....When the ballot is cast, it is transmitted over a cable from the Voter Unit to the PCU....Vote files are not encrypted but are stored in a confidential format. If this format is discovered by an insider having access to either the PCU or the Central Station, there is the possibility of altering vote totals, although doing this undetectably would require a tremendous amount of knowledge of the system because of the use of checksums and redundant storage....At the Central Station, a capability for “manual edit” of vote totals is provided. This means nothing less than the ability change vote totals to any desired numbers...It is possible, therefore, for someone to alter the vote totals and then edit the log to remove any mention of the change. Furthermore, the log only records events that are initiated through the Patriot software. Functions performed through the Windows operating system interface, such as copying, deleting or substituting a file, are not logged at all. So, what are the problems with the system? * Complex setup which, if done incorrectly, could result in the wrong set of candidates being offered. * Confusing handling of write-in candidates * Failure to record write-in candidates * Vulnerability to tampering with the Central Station, leading to votes being misassigned to candidates * Poor handling of straight party voting in cases of races where multiple votes are allowed (e.g., vote for two of three candidates), leading to changing of races that the voter can't see. * The touchscreen does not respond reliably * The screen freezes Bottom line: By all accounts, including new reports, data from Mercer County and the vendor’s own admissions, the 2004 general election in that county was a disaster from the viewpoint of both voters and election officials, resulting in an undervote percentage as high as 80% in some precincts....Neither the Mercer Letter nor the Mercer Report offers any insight into the reasons for high undervote in precincts that were not misprogrammed....The vendor does not appear to appreciate the gravity of the situation that occurred in Mercer County, and was inclined to blame it on ballot misprogramming and voter inexperience. However, numerous precincts in the county were programmed correctly but the overall undervote rate was still 7.29%, a number acknowledged by the vendor to be far out of any normal range...These Patriot statistics are completely anomalous, as political scientists have estimated that about 0.5% of the population undervotes intentionally....Unfortunately, when the ballot was created, the wrong association was made between the Presidential race and the straight party office. The result was that when a voter voted straight party, no Presidential vote was recorded. And in another place where the UniLects were used: The vendor was asked to explain the happenings in Carteret County, North Carolina in November 2004, where a Patriot unit was used for early voting. There was confusion over the storage capacity of the PCU, the county believing it could hold approximately 10,000 ballots when in fact its capacity was only about 3,000. It is undisputed that over 4,000 of the ballots cast were irretrievably lost because they were never stored. This event received nationwide attention. The vendor’s explanation was that when the PCU filled up with votes, any further attempt to activate it for voting produced a message on the LCD screen reading “Voter Log Fault,” and the judges should have seen this and halted the voting process. Unfortunately, the machine appeared to be accepting the votes anyway although it was not doing so, and voting was not halted.
Soon every voter in America will get to be "Punked" on MTV.
Avedon Carol favors NO computers whatsoever, just pencil-and-paper, counted by hand. Cheaper, more accurate, safer.
And just as corruptible without proper oversight, PW. The Brits had a scandal over postal ballots. But, for example, ballot boxes could be switched during transfer. In some highly partisan districts, almost anything could happen, because there;s no real oversight.

The reason the British paper ballots have worked is the same way that you get Canadians out of the pool by saying, "Please get out of the pool." At this juncture, British politics is getting sleazier, and better controls will be needed.
Oh, indeed. The worst fraud (aside from the wholesale and illegal tossing out of whole groups of people, Florida style) has historically been with absentee paper ballots.

Avedon's argument is that paper ballots get counted, whereas with even an OptiScan system, the electronic results are never hand-checked unless there's a call for a recount -- so all vote scammers would have to do would be to keep their cheating to levels that would guarantee winning, yet not trigger a recount. (Of course, my solution would be to have automatic hand recounts of each vote.)

And yes, it all comes down to who can be trusted.
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