Voting machines to receive digital fix
Miami Herald. July 19, 2004. BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
TALLAHASSEE - The software fix needed to repair a flaw in touch-screen voting machines used by Miami-Dade, Broward and nine other Florida counties will be approved by state officials next week and required to be applied to every piece of equipment made by the company, state officials said Friday.
The fix directed at two lines of programming code embedded in the software of the iVotronic touch-screen machines stops the devices from corrupting a small piece of the data when the battery runs low after the election is over.
''We have confidence it will be certified in the next several days,'' said Nicole DeLara, spokeswoman for the state's Division of Elections.
The company that makes the machines, Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software, will cover the cost of the fix including helping Miami-Dade and Broward install the program on their 13,000 computers. Other counties will install the software themselves, said Kurt Browning, Pasco County supervisor of elections and the chairman of the ES&S users' group in Florida.
The fix comes only after a month of tension between ES&S and state election officials who originally downplayed the issue as a ''glitch'' or an ''anomaly'' in public pronouncements but privately worked feverishly to get the company to find and fix the problem before the Aug. 31 primary election.
'The state held ES&S's feet to the fire and said: `We don't want a Band Aid,' and that's in fact what they did,'' said Browning.
The problem was initially thought to be a bug in the software that randomly garbled the serial numbers of voting machines in the audit log, which can be used in a recount after a close election. If the serial numbers are incorrect, it would be impossible to verify which votes were recorded on which machines.
After working for a month and enlisting the help of outside computer experts, ES&S discovered that the problem occurs when the back-up data is being downloaded from the voting machines in a post-election audit, said Doug Jones, the University of Iowa professor hired by Miami-Dade election officials to advise them on the problem.
''The election data is intact through these bugs,'' Jones said, adding that it is ''pure luck'' that the data is not affected. ``When you make programming errors with no internal firewalls, which these systems don't have, you really have nothing to prevent your errors from going far afield.''
For that reason, Jones stressed, any local government that uses the iVotronic machines should apply the fix.
''I recommend people install these fixes,'' he said. ``It ought to be attended to in every jurisdiction that uses iVotronics. It's much better to have your house in order if there's a contested election.''
As for the other problems raised by Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan in a letter to ES&S officials last month, Jones believes they are ``things that should be fixed but they are not things that should be rushed to do anything about.''
''They affect the perception of security more than they affect the security,'' he said.
DeLara said the state is not alarmed about the additional problems in the operation of the iVotronic machines but is glad to be told about them.
''These are not issues that relate to the functionality of the equipment. They relate to the user-friendliness and will be up to the counties to work with the vendor,'' she said. ``We would be concerned if these issues related to security, accuracy and reliability and the issues raised in the letter don't do that.''
Browning said he traveled to Omaha last week to have a ''heart-to-heart'' with the top officials of ES&S to urge them to take more seriously the problems facing election officials in Florida.
'I told them, `You don't understand the political environment that we're in when you've got customers out there, like Connie Kaplan, that are getting eaten alive.' ''
Browning said, ``You tell people you are the best elections company in the world. Well, you better start acting like it. I don't care how small you think the problem is, you need to be more responsive.''
He added: ``I think they got the message.''
ES&S spokeswoman Jill Friedman Wilson said the company will continue to communicate with customers about the glitch and the patch.
''We will be working with every customer, and to the extent the solution applies to the equipment they use, help them with it,'' she said.
Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday defended the touch-screen machines, noting they've been in use since the 2002 election.
''They're not new; they've been used already and they've been used correctly,'' he said. ``Miami-Dade County purchased these machines, there is a flaw in the auditing related to it, a minor flaw that has only occurred once. They have the obligation to fix that up and they will. I have total confidence in Miami-Dade County's ability to carry out this election.''
The governor suggested Democrats are seeking to energize their core voters by raising questions about the accuracy of the voting machines. The Kerry campaign on Thursday said it has hired a Miami lawyer with experience from the 2000 disputed presidential election to monitor voting irregularities.
''Every time that liberal Democrats say that the election is in question, every vote should count, it is an effort to try to mobilize their base and that's it,'' Bush said. ``And it should be discounted, deeply, because it is purely politics.''