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Voting device flaws known in 2002

Eighteen months after discovering a flaw in its touch-screen voting machines, the manufacturer says it's still working on getting a software patch ready.




TALLAHASSEE - The manufacturer of the touch-screen voting machines used widely in Florida and elections officials in at least one county knew as early as 2002 about a flaw in the computer's audit system.

Electronic Systems & Software, of Omaha, Neb., first learned of the problems with the computer's ability to reconstruct an election when elections officials in Lee County discovered the problem after the November 2002 contest.

The machines are used in Miami-Dade, Broward and nine other Florida counties.

ES&S has since come up with a ''software solution'' to the computer's Unity software suite, said company spokeswoman Jill Friedman. But since every change in the software must be approved and certified by the state, ES&S is ''still working on the details of the certification test,'' she said.

ES&S has refused to agree to the state's plan to test the equipment, said Paul Craft, head of the state's voting systems department.

''The reason they did not agree to our test plan is the fact that our test plan requires that we replicate the problem and prove the solution,'' Craft said Monday. ``They haven't been able to replicate the problem.''

The company, however, said it has agreed to a state test, but still needs to negotiate the details of the testing process.

The software glitch involves a failure to provide a consistent electronic log of the vote activity when the machine is asked to reproduce what happened during an election, such as during a close contest or a recount.

The machine is capable of recording every entry made on the touch-screen as well as producing an image of every ballot cast. But when Miami-Dade officials conducted tests in June and October last year, they discovered that when the information was transferred from the voting machines, the serial numbers were corrupted and, in two incidents, votes were lost.

State and local elections officials insist the problem does not affect the vote tally and could in no way influence the outcome of an election. But if counties are ordered by a court to produce a record of the votes in a close race, some of the data could be lost unless a fix is in place.

ES&S has told elections supervisors that they can avoid the problem if workers download the information from each touch-screen machine onto a laptop computer a task that Miami-Dade officials estimate would take five minutes for each of its 7,200 machines.

Craft dismisses the glitch as anything but ''an annoyance'' and echoed criticism by Secretary of State Glenda Hood that if the state had been aware of the problem sooner, a solution might be in place by now.

He acknowledged, however, that elections officials learned of the problem in March of this year but overlooked it until the press wrote about it in May.

Jenny Nash, spokeswoman for Hood, said the problem was laid out in a nine-page memo sent to the department about a proposed recount-rule change.

''In hindsight, the staff member [who received it] probably should have brought the issue to our attention, but it was not,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the finger-pointing continues as the issue raises new doubts about how the state will handle another close race.

Hood has blasted Miami-Dade officials for failing to notify her office when they learned of the problems last June.

Miami-Dade officials say that if other counties, such as Lee, had notified the state when they discovered the glitches, ES&S might have been under more pressure to come up with a so-called work-around to the problem before it the mistake was repeated.

''We were under the assumption the work-around would correct it,'' said Constance Kaplan, Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. ``Now, I see, had they come forward and been a little more open for all of us, it would have been better.''

Kaplan said ES&S told her this week ``they have found the specific causes of this glitch and they're 100 percent sure they have corrections.''

''That was good news but, as you know, the calendar is not under our control,'' she said.


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