Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour (Displayed 09/16/04 - 09/17/04)

King and Pierce Counties, Washington. September, 2004. Diebold, ES&S.
Poorly designed software revisions reject valid ballots.

Although the optical scan software revisions intended to handle a new style of ballot were not qualified by an ITA, the state assigned provisional certification to the software after completing what the Secretary of State's office claimed was "extensive" testing. For example, in a letter to VotersUnite!, State Director of Elections Nick Handy defended the state testing process by stating that it included:

Functional tests of each system to ensure that the variety of ways that a voter might mark a primary consolidated ballot will be counted in accordance with the new Washington State law.

However, the functional tests didn't catch a major software design error that caused the machines to reject valid ballots. Ballots without a party choice selected were rejected by the precinct-optical scanners, even if the voter intended not to vote in partisan races.*

Among the disgruntled in King County was attorney Rhys Sterling, who learned the ballot box wouldn't accept his ballot because he voted only on nonpartisan races and issues.

After the machine returned his ballot, a poll supervisor at Hobart Community Church asked whether he had chosen a political party (he had not) and whether he had deliberately not chosen a party. His ballot was accepted only after the supervisor opened the machine and pressed a button overriding its programming.

"So much for secret ballots," said Sterling, who claims that yesterday's voting procedures violate the state constitution's guarantee of "absolute secrecy" in preparing and depositing ballots.

The problems could easily have been avoided if the revised software had been adequately designed. It simply had to accept nonpartisan ballots and reject ballots with votes in party races but no party choice marked.

* Nonpartisan voters baffle ballot machines. Seattle Times. September 15, 2004. By Keith Ervin, Seattle Times staff reporter.

See: Diebold 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