Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour (Displayed 11/11/04 - 11/12/04)

Guilford County, North Carolina. November, 2004. ES&S.
Software reached its limit and counted backwards.

ES&S early voting machines had capacity problems, which affected anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000 ballots. The totals were so large, the tabulation computer threw some numbers away. Retallying changed two outcomes and gave an additional 22,000 votes to Kerry.*

The biggest change in vote totals outside Mecklenburg was in Guilford County, which includes Greensboro. The computer that tabulates the totals choked when officials uploaded the early voting numbers, which was a particularly large batch of data.

"So it just threw some of (the votes) away," said Guilford County elections director George Gilbert.

... The new Guilford numbers boosted Atkinson's votes by nearly 12,000 in the superintendent's race, putting her ahead of Republican Bill Fletcher, who got 3,000 more votes in the update.

The Guilford totals didn't change President Bush's win in the state, but did shift the vote total by 22,000.

In a letter to Guilford County, Ken Carbullido, Vice President of ES&S Product Development, explained in very technical language that when the vote totals reached 32,767 (32K), it began subtracting from the totals. This same problem occurred in the 2004 general election in Broward County had.**

The 32,767 capacity limitation at a single precinct level is a function of the design and definition of the results database used by ERM. The data storage element used to record votes at the precinct level is a two byte binary field. 32,676 is 2 to the 15th power, which is the maximum number held by a two byte word (16 bits) in memory, where the most significant bit is reserved as the sign bit (a plus or minus indicator). Additionally, ERM precinct count level data is stored in a binary computer format known as two’s complement.....

In the letter, Mr. Carbullido admitted they knew about the problem but had not advised the county.

* Winner so far: Confusion. The Charlotte Observer. November 5, 2004. By Mark Johnson.

** Letter to Guilford County.

See: ES&S in the News

News stories make it rapidly apparent that
electronic voting is not reliable, accurate, or secure.
Any one who claims otherwise is either uninformed or deceptive.
~ Joseph Holder