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Election analysis detects database problem  

ALAN CHOATE - Daily Herald  

The early morning meltdown of Utah County's electronic voting machines Nov. 7 is a tale of two databases, according to an analysis by county officials.

Different versions of the same database were used to program the memory cards for voting machines and those that programmed the encoders that give voters access to a ballot and since the databases didn't match exactly, people got an error message instead of a ballot.

The problem surfaced as soon as polls opened on Election Day. A work-around solution was implemented, but not before voters had waited in long lines, and some left without voting.

The problem was traced to the encoders, which program a voter access card. The card tells the touchscreen voting machine which ballot to display.

The memory cards used in voting machines were programmed with the certified version of the database provided to the state by Diebold, which makes Utah's elections equipment.

The encoders, however, were programmed using a backup version of the database, said Utah County Clerk/Auditor Kim Jackson.

The database matches a ballot format with a specific precinct.

"As far as we could tell, it was identical," said Jackson of the backup database. "That's why the IT group decided to use it. Underneath, apparently there was something that was different."

He said the way numerical information was transferred differed between the two databases, resulting in encoders that put erroneous precinct information on the voter access cards.

That mismatch prevented a ballot from being called up on the touchscreen voting machines, said Diebold spokesman David Bear.

"The card has to match up with the ballot or it won't allow you to vote," he said. "It says, 'We can't find what you're asking me to find, so I won't let you do anything.' "

At polling places, election workers ended up using a touchscreen machine as an encoder. Those encodings worked because all the machines were programmed using the certified database.

The encoders were programmed using the backup database to save time, Jackson said.

Three people were tasked with preparing Utah County's 236 encoders. The fastest way to do that was to place all the precinct information on a memory card, place the card in a voting machine and transfer the information to the encoders from that machine.

Early voting had already started, Jackson said.

"The certified database had been set for election, and they could've gone in and unset it for election, load the cards, and then reset it for election," he said. "They could've done that. They obviously didn't want to mess with the locked-down election database.

"Their thought process was, 'Since these are exact duplicates ... let's just download the cards from the backup database.' "

County officials have learned their lesson, Jackson said: In the future, all voting equipment will be programmed using the same database.

"We've put procedures in place for future elections to make sure this will never happen again," he said.

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