County's voting machines examined (OH)
Barbara Carmen The Columbus Dispatch 16 March 2008
When Jennifer Brunner cast her vote last fall, she is certain she saw something so odd on her touch-screen voting machine that it prompted a state criminal investigation into the Franklin County Board of Elections.
At least 15 of the county's electronic machines are under double-lock at an Alum Creek warehouse. It is being treated as a crime scene.
County elections officials asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to seize the machines during the investigation by Attorney General Marc Dann and forensics consultants.
In all, the state is expected to spend as much as $48,000 to divine what Brunner saw or didn't see. Investigators already have found that many of the county's voting machines weren't tested before the November election. And a function that tracked changes to the machines was purposely turned off.
Brunner isn't the average voter. As secretary of state, she is in charge of making sure Ohio's elections are properly conducted.
When she voted on Nov. 6, Brunner said she was surprised to see a gray bar and the words "candidate withdrawn" where Democrat Jay Perez's name ought to have been.
Her husband, voting on a nearby machine, told her, "Perez was on my ballot."
"This is a huge problem," Brunner said. "There is great concern that not every voter has the same ballot."
Brunner allows that it might now be hard to find out what really happened.
Perez withdrew one day after Franklin County had finalized its ballots. He had hoped to avoid playing spoiler in fellow Democrat Patsy Thomas' race to retain her appointment to the Franklin County Municipal Court.
Instead, Perez's name remained on the ballots or allegedly, most ballots and Republican David Tyack won.
Ted Hart, a spokesman for Dann, said the attorney general's office won't comment, not even to confirm the investigation.
But Dennis L. White, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said Brunner is correct in turning over the matter for investigation to Dann's office.
"I told her, 'Jennifer, I don't see any way it could have happened. But if it did, it's huge. We have a federal election coming up this November. We need to find out.' "
White said Brunner phoned him a few days after the election and they immediately pulled every suspect machine and checked the ballots. Perez's name was listed each time, he said.
They also checked computerized copies of ballots and paper tapes. In each case, White said, no evidence supported what Brunner saw.
Brunner said consultants from SysTest Labs in Colorado, however, were skeptical. When she described the gray box with the faint words "candidate withdrawn," the investigators told her, "That's exactly what you'd see if someone masked a name."
A SysTest report notes that voters in other precincts in Victorian Village, Clintonville and Hilliard also reported seeing "candidate withdrawn" on their machines.
SysTest investigators also found that the board had not performed a routine test of the computer software on each machine, instead testing just one machine in each precinct.
White said they were following the instructions of the vendor, who was ed by the past secretary of state.
But Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, hearing of the random testing, said, "That's outrageous."
As a result, the elections board tested every machine for the March primary.
Investigators also discovered that a board programmer turned off "audit logs" in the voting machines in April 2007, hindering investigators from reconstructing software changes. White found that the vendor had instructed a board employee on how to disable audits to speed programming.
Brunner said other vendors she consulted were appalled: "One I spoke with said, 'You're never supposed to tell a (client) how to do that.' "
White said it would be awkward for Brunner to investigate her own claim, and he doesn't believe it's valid.
"I don't know of any way that could happen. It would take the great-grandson of Al Capone and the great-grandson of Albert Einstein working in collusion to pull this off," White said.
"I don't know of any way that could happen. It would take the great-grandson of Al Capone and the great-grandson of Albert Einstein working in collusion to pull this off."
Dennis L. White