Computer glitches slow Volusia results
County officials ask the machines' supplier to investigate why memory cards failed Tuesday.
By Kevin P. Connolly | Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted November 4, 2004
DELAND Volusia County wants answers from the supplier of its electronic vote-counting equipment after glitches plagued the system yet again.
Four years after a malfunction in an Accu-Vote memory card helped spark Florida's election chaos, problems surfaced Tuesday for the second time this week. Memory-card breakdowns in six machines left political contests in limbo for hours and forced officials to scramble for results.
Seminole County, which uses the same equipment as Volusia, experienced similar delays because of problems with three machines. Checks of other Florida counties using the same equipment and with state officials did not uncover any additional problems.
Volusia's supplier, Texas-based Diebold Election Systems Inc., said Wednesday that it did not know what might have caused the problems, though the company plans to look into it.
David Bear, a spokesman, said he didn't consider problems with six of the 179 polling locations in Volusia a "high number," especially since the system's backup the paper ballots weren't affected.
But Volusia officials said it was too many.
"It is a terrible inconvenience," said Volusia County Council member Joie Alexander, a member of the county's election-oversight panel.
After all, the county had the memory cards inspected by Diebold this summer in preparation for the busy election season, said Charlene Gagnier, director of outreach for Volusia's election department.
No cards failed during the Aug. 31 and Oct. 5 elections, she said. Asked if the cards were ed correctly, she said, "It wasn't user error."
Volusia spent about $300,000 replacing and upgrading its memory cards after a high-profile glitch in the 2000 presidential election deducted 16,022 votes from Al Gore and added nearly 10,000 phantom votes for a presidential hopeful from the Socialist Workers Party.
Ion Sancho, the elections supervisor in Leon County, said officials with Diebold told him that the new, higher-capacity memory cards tend to have more glitches than older cards. But the Accu-Vote machines also were rated as the most-accurate ballot counters used in Florida during the presidential election in 2000, he said.
"It doesn't occur every time," Sancho said. "The most difficult problem to solve with any piece of technology is an intermittent anomaly."
Tuesday's problems came the day after officials discovered that a memory-card failure at an early-voting site in Daytona Beach wiped out 13,244 votes cast from Oct. 18 to Sunday. The memory-card meltdown forced officials to re-feed all 13,244 votes into a new machine Tuesday.
Then, after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, memory-card problems were discovered at six precincts when poll officials tried to send the votes electronically to the elections office in DeLand.
When that didn't work, the ballots from the precincts four polling locations in Port Orange and one each in DeLand and Daytona Beach had to be hauled to DeLand, where officials fed the ballots into new machines. They didn't finish counting until about 1 a.m. Wednesday, county spokesman Dave Byron said.
"This is not a case of people's votes not being counted. It's only a case of the votes being delayed," Byron said.
Seminole's memory-card glitches were discovered at the same point in the process as Volusia's, when poll workers tried to send voting results via modem to the main elections office. Because of the problems, Seminole officials also didn't finish counting until about 1 a.m.
In Orange County, which uses optical scanners from a different supplier, officials did not report any memory-card failures. They had minor equipment problems Tuesday, but nothing more than what is considered typical on any Election Day, said Dane Beavers, the systems engineer in Orange's elections office.
In Florida, 15 counties use touch-screen voting machines and the remaining 52 use optical-scan ballot counters. But only a certain type of optical scanners, those supplied by a company Diebold acquired about two years ago, seem to have the problem with the new memory cards, Sancho said.
Seventeen counties, including Volusia, Seminole, Brevard and Polk, use the equipment, originally built by Global Election Systems Inc., he said.
Sancho said his office in Leon County didn't have any memory-card problems Tuesday, but said it experienced failures during the Democratic presidential primary in March.
Although it was unclear Wednesday how widespread memory-card problems were during this year's election, a consumer-protection group plans to find out.
Bev Harris, executive director of Seattle-based Black Box Voting, said she heard about memory-card problems elsewhere in the country Tuesday but did not have any details.
Her organization filed public-records requests late Tuesday with every agency that handled elections to uncover any irregularities, including memory-card problems.
"They went out nationwide," she said of the requests.