Saturday, July 30, 2005

 

Blackwell and major new Diebold problems

Just when we thought Ohio's Secretary of State Kenny Blackwell couldn't look any more incompetent (leaving aside the pending pay-to-play accusations investigation), we get this new gem.

Today we learn that Blackwell's money-greased love affair with Diebold Systems's voting machines has an even more fundamental problem: the machines don't work!

From the Oakland Tribune (tip-of-our-hat to Crooks & Liars):
After possibly the most extensive testing ever on a voting system, California has rejected Diebold's flagship electronic voting machine because of printer jams and screen freezes, sending local elections officials scrambling for other means of voting.

"There was a failure rate of about 10 percent, and that's not good enough for the voters of California and not good enough for me," Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said.

If the machines had been used in an election, the result could have been frustration for poll workers and long lines for thousands of voters, elections officials and voter advocates said Thursday.

"We certainly can't take any kind of risk like that with this kind of device on California voters," McPherson said.

Rejection of the TSx [Ed. note - the Diebold machine is officially called AccuVote TSx, a named that was apparently not earned] by California, the nation's largest voting-system market, could influence local elections officials from Utah, Mississippi and Ohio, home of Diebold corporate headquarters, where dozens of counties are poised to purchase the latest Diebold touch screens.State elections officials in Ohio say they still have confidence in the machines.

[. . .]

For eight hours July 20, four dozen local elections officials and contractors stood at tables and tapped votes into the machines to replicate a California primary, one of the most complex elections in the nation. State officials watched as paper jams cropped up 10 times, and several machines froze up, requiring a full reboot for voting to continue.
The HAVA act requires states to have modernized voting equipment including handicapped-accessible machines, and many states like Ohio have added other requirments.

In a May news release, Blackwell implied that the Diebold Systems met these requirements and functioned without problems, excluding systems by competitors ES&S and Hart:
"[A] year has passed since the General Assembly (through H.B. 262) added the requirement that all new electronic voting systems be equipped with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. In both these instances, only Diebold has presented my office with a system that is ready to be sent to the boards of elections and placed in front of Ohio voters."

[. . .]

On Thursday, April 14, 2005, Secretary Blackwell announced that Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems is currently the only voting machine manufacturer that has met federal and state requirements. The State Board of Voting Machine Examiners’ approval of the new Diebold voting system is pending receipt of all federal accreditation information.
Unlike Blackwell, California election officials actually took seriously their responsibility to ensure that the equipment functioned as advertised.
Elections officials and voting activists said they had never heard of more extensive testing for a single voting system, outside of an actual election. Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, said McPherson deserves credit for ordering rigorous testing.

"It's the first ever conducted in the state and, to my knowledge, in the country that simulated a real-world experience with these machines in a voting booth," she said.

Ordinarily, states and the National Association of State Elections Directors approve voting systems after labs hired by the manufacturers perform tests on a handful of machines. The Diebold TSx managed to get through those tests — twice. But none of the testing standards addresses printers on electronic voting machines, even though more than 20 states either require a so-called paper trail or are debating such a requirement.

For years, voters have reported frozen screens and other glitches in the polling place.

"It's always been the voters' word against election officials' and the vendors'," Alexander said. "Now we have real proof right before the eyes of state elections officials."
ES&S sued Blackwell to halt his demand that counties "select" their machines by May 31. After election officials from 31 Ohio counties joined the suit, Blackwell was forced to extend the deadline until September.

So what have learned?
Hopefully everyone is out helping Paul Hackett this weekend, and we should keep our mind on winning that election for now. But, as this story illustrates, the battle in Ohio is still in it's early stages and their are many more battles ahead.

[UPDATE]: An apparently earlier version of the story in an online publication related to the Tribune indicates that Blackwell plans to hang tough on his love affair with Diebold:
State elections officials in Ohio say they still have confidence in the machines.

"Absolutely," said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office.

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