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Florida E-Voting Machine Fails 122

cmason32 writes "An optical voting machine memory card failed earlier today in Daytona Beach, Florida, sending election officials scrambling to secure the 13,000 paper receipts. Without the paper ballots, all 13,000 votes would have been lost. Considering how close some predict this election to be, losing that many ballots would be catastrophic. Let's hope that we won't see any more of this in the next 24 hours, and that these problems are fixed before 2006."
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Florida E-Voting Machine Fails

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  • by cbiffle ( 211614 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:19PM (#10700822)
    The title of this article may be misleading for those who equate "e-voting" with "touchscreen machines."

    The machine that failed was an optical scan machine. This is like a scantron for school exams; it's the type we use here in Arizona. You fill in little arrows and it reads which ones are darkened. There are still paper ballots that go into a lock box under the machine.

    Personally, I don't think this is "e-voting" at all and that the title is just plain wrong, but since optical scan machines do, indeed, use electrons, I suppose it's arguable.
    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:25PM (#10700869)
      Far from misleading the title is accurate. In most states its illegal to open an optical scan ballot box and recount without a court order. The votes are counted using a programable computing device. the good thing is that it's a rather dumb device, closer to your washing machine in general programmability. but it's still electroinc voting.

      the good news is that there is paper trail. It can be secured, and it can be recounted.

      It also shows the importance of spot checking paper trails. What if this error had not been so blaringly obvious? Who would ever know. Since its not routine practice (its illegal) to recount paper ballots there would not be any way to know.

      hence we need paper trails and we need to spot check them.

      • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @01:04PM (#10701360)
        Don't just say "Oh my gosh" and rant here.

        Moreover it does no good to have voter verified paper trails in your own precint if florida or california lacks them. That paper trail only secures your one vote. You want everyone elses secure too as errors elsewhere swamp your measly vote.

        So rant to the persons who could actually do something about this: the head of NASED the organization that sets voting machine standards is Denise Lamb [mailto] and the head of the National Association of Secretaries of state is Rebecca Vigil-giron [mailto]. Tell them you are a professional programmer and give them your candid opinion about the need for voter verified paper trails. Currently they are outspoken in nation wide advocacy agains adding paper trails to touch screen voting.

    • Thanks for the info. From reading the blurb, I thought the machine stored the data on MO disc or something.
      • They do. they use PCMCIA cards to store the data on. I work with the county election supervisor, so I've seen these things work. Pretty nifty. Thing is that if the data gets hammered on the card, you just plug in a new card and rescan the entire box. The county election supervisor would have to make the call when/how/who to do that, however.
    • they use protons too!
    • should have been from the "told you so" department.
  • by theCoder ( 23772 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:20PM (#10700827) Homepage Journal
    I live in Brevard county, which is just south of the county in question. The machine that failed optically scans the ballots just like a scan-tron machine does (we have the same type in Brevard county). Voters fill in bubbles for the candidates they want, and the machine scans and counts the votes. The ballots are saved for just such a problem. Honestly, I don't know why all the electronic voting isn't like this. It's incredibly simple and efficient.

    As to whether more problems like this will occur that will actually lose votes, I hope it does. I hope thousands of votes are lost and that the outcome is affected. That's the only way we'll be able to get rid of the paperless voting machines once and for all.
    • Voters fill in bubbles for the candidates they want, and the machine scans and counts the votes. The ballots are saved for just such a problem. Honestly, I don't know why all the electronic voting isn't like this. It's incredibly simple and efficient.

      Personally, I prefer the punch ballots. It's probably just superstition, but removing a single chad seems much less ambiguous than the various bubble-filling exercises, where I'm never quite sure when enough is enough. Some of your neighbors seem to have probl

      • It's probably just superstition, but removing a single chad seems much less ambiguous than the various bubble-filling exercises

        Unfortunately, removing a second chad is remarkably simple and is a wonderful way to spoil a ballot.

        Of course, someone with access to the ballots can selectively spoil bubble-ballots too. I suspect they're more difficult to spoil accidentally-on-purpose without being caught by an election monitor, though.
      • I grew up in Connecticut where we too had the old mechanical machines with the levers and curtains. I was surprised when I moved to Arizona and saw the optical scan ballots. Filling in bubbles with a magic marker on a rickety table while your neighbor looks over your shoulder just feels cheap. Besides, the curtain and levers on the old machines, along with the fact that no one could come in (maybe a myth) gave the machines the feel of a really cool fort.
      • but removing a single chad seems much less ambiguous than the various bubble-filling exercises, where I'm never quite sure when enough is enough.

        The wonderful thing is its not like the scan sheets you use at school exactly, there are clear large bubbles beside each name. AND if you bubble too much or too little or there are some stray marks and the machine isn't 100% sure how you voted, it will split the ballot right out immidently and tell you to vote again. No error possible really.
      • I once programmed a scan-tron machine. Its pretty simple- check the pixel data in a rectangular area around the bubble. See how many are abover a threshold for darkness. If the number above the threshold is greater than a constant, its filled. a quick strike with a marker is sufficient to fill one, it does not need to be filled ot the edges. Writing an X or a check in there will also be picked up.
    • [I live in Brevard as well] You missed the best part-- unlike touchscreen panels, I don't have to wait for a voting booth to vote! I filled out my ballot standing in line and skipped the booth altogether! Much faster than doing it the "offical" way. :)
    • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @01:00PM (#10701304)
      Considering that almost anybody that has attended public school knows how to fill out a Scan-Tron sheet blindfoled and upside down, I'd say that is a good criteria for usability. Well, I guess if you're not blind or something, in which case the electronic machines don't really help either. I don't understand why we need full-on generic purpose computing processors and on-screen displays and bullshit, just to perform a multiple choice selection. Come on, it's not that hard. It's embarrassing.
      • Everyone who has attended public school since 1970, maybe. That leaves out a lot of voters. My parents (baby Boomers)never had scantron. My Grandparents certanly never did. My parents have since learned, my grandparents cannot. I don't mean to insult senoir citizens, but as we all get older our eyes get worse. They have problems with daily tasks that are much more important to their quality of lives that are much more embarsising than not being able to figure out scantron. So is there a better practical s
      • Considering that almost anybody that has attended public school knows how to fill out a Scan-Tron sheet blindfoled

        You raise an interesting point. What about visually impaired people. The main trouble with optical mark ballots (or at least one serious concern) is that they are not accessible. However, a well-designed system would have some sort of audible voting. In fact, here in Maryland (yes, we also have Diebold touch screen machines and I don't like them either) we have an accessible system that ha

    • "I hope thousands of votes are lost and that the outcome is affected. That's the only way we'll be able to get rid of the paperless voting machines once and for all."

      Isn't that what we said last time, with the butterfly ballots?

      Did this line in the article text give anyone else shivers?

      "Let's hope that we won't see any more of this in the next 24 hours, and that these problems are fixed before 2006."

      Is it cold in here, or am I completely terrified?
  • by SoCalChris ( 573049 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:23PM (#10700844) Journal
    Seriously, slashdot hasn't been working right all morning.

    And the /. editors bitch about Diebold trying to cover up and ignore defects in the software...
    • And who relies on slashcode to determine the president of the USA? I think that those responsible for the mechanisms relied upon for voting should be held to a higher standard than slashdot is.
      • You are telling me the recent Slashdot poll was not the real election ? Bastards !

        However, this in some way explains why I was able to vote in spite of not being American... and here I was thinking "Those Americans are SO internationally-minded people"...
        • Yeah, that Cowboy Neal always gets the European vote. I think it's his 20-hour workweek platform or something.
        • However, this in some way explains why I was able to vote in spite of not being American... and here I was thinking "Those Americans are SO internationally-minded people"...

          Hey, it really is true. We not only allow illegal immigrants to vote, but dead people and convicted felons who have lost their voting priviledge also. We are truly tolerant of all when it comes to voting. In most states it is considered intimidation to make a voter provide proof of eligibility or identity.

  • by firephreek ( 752523 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:23PM (#10700849)
    I told you so?

    What about the fallout from this? Who's liable? Can we sue companies like Diebold (or whatever manufacturer created this particular machine) for this sort thing?
  • by thelenm ( 213782 ) <mthelen@gmail . c om> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:24PM (#10700868) Homepage Journal
    ABC News has a continuously-updated list of irregularities [go.com] from around the country.

    On the radio this morning, I heard something about a couple thousand votes already present on some electronic voting machines in Philadelphia before the poll workers arrived in the morning. But I can't find any stories about it online. Does anyone have any more information on this?
    • Seems like this link at Drudge [drudgereport.com] is what you're looking for. It is, unfortunately, not really informational.
    • by RandomCoil ( 88441 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @01:07PM (#10701403)
      This has been on CNN (TV) for a while now. Supposedly "Republican observers" noted that machines at one location had registered 1300 votes before the polls had opened. "Poll officials" and some "impartial observers" checked the machines. The 1300 votes were actually the votes cast using that machine over its lifetime, not number of votes recorded today.

      The mayor of Philadelphia seemed to think this was Republican shenanigans. I think it's more likely that the observers had one two many double espressos this morning.
    • Yeah, apparently it was a misunderstanding of how the odometers on the machines work. They aren't reset between elections and therefore show the total number of ballots ever cast on them, not just the number in the current election. Some people saw the numbers on the odometers and thought ballots had already been cast.
    • To be honest, it seems like for a nation as large as the US, the irregularities listed so far seem pretty minor and rare. If things keep going like they are with just minor irregularities like the ones listed, I would feel pretty good about the turnout of the election, no matter what it was. So far at least, it seems to have much fewer questionable problems.

      I suppose I should hold my optimism for when the polls close and the real shit starts hitting the fan. Let just hope that things continue to run as
      • I agree. There doesn't really seem to be anything terribly serious on that list. Just some minor screw-ups. Certainly,

        The recurring MoveOn.org story is funny. Honestly, I'm not finding it hard to believe they might have been within a hundred feet in a few different places. But that's not really something to toss out votes over.

        -Erwos
    • Looks like Drudge is more worried about getting the scoop than fact checking. It turns out that there is a counter on the backs of the machines that shows the number of times the machine has been used in an election, and someone thought that it was some kind of vote count.
  • Was the hardware and software for these machines transparent, freely documented and free?

    (BTW, who /.ed /.?)
    • I cant speak for the florida machines. But here in new mexico the programming of logic packs for optical scan machines is awarded to a contractor. This tells me that while the programming method may be propietary its not secret; there is more than one contractor.
    • Doubt it- OSS would have had some programmer, somewhere, catch the fallacy of buffering 13000+ votes in RAM without a single disk write....
      • They'd also cactch the fallacy of trusting a single piece of media and one geographic location. For all I know, a flash memory may be more reliable than a hard drive. But, both are incredibly unreliable compared to a transactional database with geographicly diverse redundancy.
  • Why does not the whole country just use the same ones we ahve in Pittsburgh, they been in use for 50+ years to my knolage. you pull a switch, then when you finish you press a button and it then records on paper the results, simple and works.
    • The reason is that those machines are no longer being produced. Worse than that, parts for them are no longer being produced. Bad enough yet? How about this: the company went out of business about 25 years ago. If anything ever breaks, the county calls up a local machine shop to replace them ... and special orders like that can be pricey (I have a friend who's the GM of such a shop).

      That would be the reason that a) those machines are not becoming more widespread and b) PA is thinking about phasing them
    • Wouldn't actually fit in the envelopes. Here in Oregon, we have mail-in voting only, no actual polling places (unless you consider the volunteers in the old polling places with the bucket and the drive-up ballot drop-off....)
  • by alexatrit ( 689331 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @12:33PM (#10700980) Homepage
    Regardless of the type of voting machine (optical readers, Diebold, or others), I'm still concerned about lost votes. I half-wanted to use the provisional ballot this morning, but when I asked the voting "official" about a paper ballot, she looked at me like I was crazy and said "we don't have any paper ballots here." Having untrained voting officials is going to bugger up this election as well.
    • Are you in Maryland? If you are, she was right. You are not allowed to vote on a paper ballot unless it is a special vote (absentee, etc.). A few people tried to use provisional ballots earlier in the year and their votes were ruled invalid (they even appealed to the State Supreme Court and the ruling was upheld). At least in Maryland, you have no choice but to use the Diebold machines.

      That said, I doubt that there could be much vote changing by Republicans in Maryland simply because Maryland always goes Democrat by a fairly large margin. If it went Republican it would raise huge red flags and even if the Republican Party were trying to be evil they couldn't in Maryland (note the use of the subjunctive before calling me an evil Republican hater).

      • ...before calling me an evil Republican hater


        You love evil Republicans? Does that mean you hate the good ones?

        • Ways to read it: ...before calling me an "evil republican" hater
          as in someone who hates only the evil republicans
          or if someone considered all republicans evil. ...before calling me an "evil" "republican hater"
          as if there were good and bad "republican haters"

          possibly more but i got bored.
      • A few people tried to use provisional ballots earlier in the year and their votes were ruled invalid (they even appealed to the State Supreme Court and the ruling was upheld). At least in Maryland, you have no choice but to use the Diebold machines.

        The provisional ballot requirement is part of HAVA. How does Maryland think it can trump federal law during a federal election? Was there any rationale given?

  • For those considering casting their vote for the lesser of two evils, check out Inverse vote pairing. [blogspot.com]

    Find a family member or friend who would cancel out your lesser evil vote. Make a deal with them to both vote third party. You get to take a vote AWAY from your greater evil, and the third paties get two votes. If enough people did this when the candidates suck perhaps we'd have REAL debates?

  • It's always going to be the same. One party points to the other that is pointing back at them. It's like the only truth about politics [seriousfix.com] is that no matter what we choose we still get dumped on.
  • Only in Florida (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by woobieman29 ( 593880 )
    I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it was in a black neighborhood......
  • We bubble in our candidate of choice, or we write in whoever we want to vote for. Therefore I can be proud knowing that I'm probably the only voter in Virginia that voted for Michael Badnarik for President and Cthulhu as a write in candidate for my congressional district...
    • Does anyone know how to find the list of writeins? Especially the obviously joke/fake ones? I honestly think that the number of times people put down Mickey Mouse is a significant statistic that should be published.
      • For a write-in for the president to be counted, the write-in must register his electors before the election. (Which is either free, or a nominal cost.)

        Why? Because you're not voting for that person, you're voting for his electors. If he has no electors, they will just throw the vote away.

        This also solves the problem of the fact that, in the US, more than one person is named 'Ralph Nader'. (Nader wasn't on the ballot in this state.) If only one Ralph Nader registered electors here, and 'Ralph Nader' wins,

    • At least in my district, we use the dreaded Diebold boxen. I shuddered at the sight, but stood in line anyway...
  • A story like this should be a wake-up call to those states that are using touchscreen voting machines with no paper trail. A memory card can fail--there needs to be redundancy in the system! It is fortunate that this particular case is one where the original ballots still exist.

    Also, redundant memory cards would not be sufficient. The redundancy should be such that a single type of failure (i.e., a power surge that fries a memory chip) can't defeat the redundancy.

    Now that I'm thinking about this, I w
  • Let's hope...that these problems are fixed before 2006."
    Um, isn't that what everyone said in 2000?
  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) <seebert42@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @01:22PM (#10701629) Homepage Journal
    News for the programmers of that system- volitile memory may not be the best place to buffer 13,000 scanned ballots- you should be writing to disk after every scan.
    • Note to everyone: there are companies that make very good money building databases with mathematically proven transactions, secure logging, and multiple geographic locations for redundant servers.

      If my vote is being cast electronically, I want to know that once the transaction is committed, nothing short of global thermonuclear war is going to spoil that record. Any volatile local storage, whether a disk or flash ram, is really just not acceptable.

      Of course, in this case it's really not an electronic ba
  • Diebold Parania (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ender77 ( 551980 ) on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @01:49PM (#10702002)
    I just saw on cnn news about a woman who voted for Kerry but when she saw the screen showed her summary report it was for Bush. She called a lawyer and reviewed her selections with the election officials and it did show she selected kerry for her answers. They say it was "computer error" *Cough**bullshit**cough*
  • that's not right... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by St. Arbirix ( 218306 ) <matthew.townsend ... m minus caffeine> on Tuesday November 02, 2004 @02:39PM (#10702811) Homepage Journal
    From TFA, emphasis added:
    Members of each political party and the canvassing board must witness the recount process Tuesday.

    How is this fair? When I voted this morning some positions were competitions between a Republican or Democrat and a third party, so you'd think several different parties would get called for the recount.

    Does Florida not allow more than two parties to watch recounts?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    These were posted to Drudge Report, and quickly yanked.
    AZ CO LA MI WI PA OH FL MI NM MN WI IA NH
    Kerry 45 48 42 51 52 60 52 51 51 50 58 52 49 57
    Bush 55 51 57 48 48 40 48 48 47 48 40 43 49 41
    • Those numbers have been siting up on several political blogs this afternoon. Drudge took them down (which doesn't make sense since it would comfort his more liberal visitors and throw is conservative visitors into a voting hissy fit).
  • According to Fox News [foxnews.com]:

    A woman has sued state election officials on behalf of voters who claim they did not receive their absentee ballots on time.

    The woman sued Tuesday in federal court in Toledo with the help of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, a San Francisco-based group. A closed hearing took place Tuesday morning.

    Here is the LCCR link [lccr.com]. At first glance they look to be a social justice group not directly affiliated with either the Reds or the Blues.

  • We warned them. For 4 years we told them exactly what to expect. Nobody should be surprised. Idiots.
  • fixing the problem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Let's hope that ... these problems are fixed before 2006."

    Simple. Chuck machines into garbage, replace with paper ballots. Problem fixed.

  • that a ballot box in Florida went missing. Officials were searching frantically for it, and then the story just disappeared.

    Oh, wait. That was last time.

  • None of this would matter if we just had our state legislatures select the presidential electors. No more half truth sound bites from the campaigns, interest groups, angry individuals, or international actors. Just a peaceful discussion between the best & brightest in each state about which people should be given the job of choosing president.

    Hook me up!

  • One of the Finnish election observers says he saw a touchscreen device break down (with 200 votes inside), and it was replaced and the officials were left pondering what to do with the broken one. Apparently it was one of those touch-screen no-paper-trail ones. Interesting to see if this is an isolated incident or not.
  • I live in Daytona (actually, Ormond Beach, part of the Greater Daytona Beach area), and for most elections this county (Volusia) swings left.
    • That's not true. I've lived here nearly 30 years, and the truth is that Volusia is split, with more people leaning Republican than Democrat. Just look at the 2000 results, and you'll see what I mean. Results are all over the place, but over all Republicans won a greater proportion of the offices.

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