Friday, May 14, 2004

Count Crisis? Election official warns of glitch that may scramble vote auditing

By Matthew Haggman, Miami Daily Business Review, May 13, 2004

This is a very thorough article about the recent discovery that ES&S'a iVotronic touchscreen voting system used in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, FLA produces an unreliable audit log.


A scathing internal review of the iVotronic touch-screen voting machines used in Miami-Dade and Broward, Fla., counties, written by a Miami-Dade County elections official, has raised fresh doubts about how accurately the electronic machines count the vote.

The review, contained in a June 6, 2003, memo that came to light last month, concludes there is a "serious bug" in the voting machine software that results in votes potentially being lost and voting machines not being accounted for in the voting system's self-generated post-election audit.

The Miami-Dade County Commission's elections subcommittee has scheduled meetings today and Friday to discuss the issues raised in the memo.

The memo could cast a new shadow over the credibility of electronic voting as the November presidential election approaches. Electronic voting machines are coming under increasing criticism for being glitch-prone, not providing an adequate way to perform a recount in close races, and being vulnerable to computer hacking and fraud.

In the e-mail memo, Orlando Suarez, division manager of the county's Enterprise Technology Services Department, wrote that the system is "unusable" for auditing, recounting, or certifying an election. Suarez came to his conclusion after analyzing one precinct in a North Miami Beach municipal runoff election held May 21, 2003.

"Unfortunately, if my observations are correct, we cannot use these reports in their present state for any of these purposes," he wrote. The e-mail memo was sent to a Miami-Dade elections official named Jimmy Carmenate, who is a director of administrative services in the Miami-Dade courts. Suarez declined comment for this article.


"In my humble opinion (and based on my over 30 years of experience in the information technology field)," Suarez wrote, "I believe that there is/are a serious 'bug' in the program(s) that generate these reports making these reports unusable for the purpose that we were considering (audit an election, recount an election and if necessary, use these reports to certify an election)."

Adding to the mystery, Rodriguez-Taseff said her group just discovered that one of the apparent phantom voting machines actually exists -- based on its serial number -- in the county's touch-screen machine inventory. But it was not used in the North Miami Beach precinct examined by Suarez for that May 2003 election.


Some experts say the Suarez memo proves that the state of Florida's process for certifying the iVotronic system is flawed, and that the system was certified without rigorous research, standards and review. "Certification did not protect us against this problem coming through," Mahoney said. "They tested the software and it did not detect whatever process is causing these anomalies to appear."

Rebecca Mercuri, a research fellow in computer science at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a prominent critic of electronic voting systems, said the Suarez memo has "very serious connotations" for the November presidential election.

"Now we have evidence that at least some component does not work correctly," she said. "This is very bad."

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