Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour (Displayed 06/28/04)

Miami-Dade County, Florida. April, 2002. ES&S ballot definition file error.

In Medley, the software used to combine 45 absentee votes with the 309 electronic ballots changed the order of the candidates' names as it computed the results. The initial tally showed wins for two City Council candidates who actually lost the election. David Leahy, Miami-Dade elections supervisor said that all software had been tested before the election without a problem. Election workers who had been watching the results fed into the computer noticed the problem.

The tabulation computer didn't give any warning.

Here's what had happened. Prior to the tabulation, an ES&S technician had opened the ballot program on the memory cards to change a header. At the same time, he bumped the first candidate to the last position in the ballot definition file.

When the technician saved the edit, a prompt most likely popped up on the monitor asking him if he was sure he wanted to change the order of the names. The technician ignored the prompt and confirmed the change.

"It was something that should have been picked up and caught and was missed and was not flagged because the normal follow-up procedures to making a change in the database were not followed," [Mike] Limas [ESS Chief Operating Officer] said.

... Leahy said he is concerned because the computer did not raise any red flags, and humans had to spot the error. "If something is amiss you should get some type of error message, but there wasn't one,'' he said.

... In the future, Leahy said county election workers, not technicians from the equipment company, will program all the touch-screen and absentee ballot machines before an election to try to limit the possibility of error. He also suggested that humans might add up the absentee ballots with the touch-screen voting results to double check the computer's tally. *

* Technician's Error, Not Machines, To Blame In Dade Election Mix-Up. The Miami Herald. April 4, 2002. By Oscar Corral. [Purchase through Miami Herald online archives]

See: ES&S in the News

... the system we have for testing and certifying
voting equipment in this country
is not only broken, but is virtually nonexistent.
~ Michael Shamos
to the U.S. House Science subcommittee
on June 24, 2004