Diebold admits a glitch…

Well, well, what have we here?

Ohio's voting machine glitch exposed
Touch-screens can't be fixed before election, Brunner says

The maker of touch-screen voting machines used in half of Ohio's counties has admitted that its own programming error is to blame for votes being dropped in some counties.

The problem can't be fixed before the Nov. 4 election, so Premier Election Solutions and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner are issuing guidelines to counties for how to avoid the problem.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and provide boards of elections with the instruction and support they need to ensure an orderly and efficient election and an accurate count of Ohioans' votes," Brunner said in a memo released today.

Premier, formerly Diebold Election Systems, initially speculated that the problem was a conflict between its system and anti-virus software.

But in a letter Tuesday to Brunner, Premier President David Byrd admitted that further testing showed a source-code error that can cause votes not to be recorded when memory cards are uploaded to computer servers under certain circumstances.

"We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error," Byrd wrote.

Brunner is suing to recover the millions of taxpayer dollars spent to buy Premier touch-screens after she said an investigation this year showed that votes in at least 11 counties had been dropped in recent elections.

Elections workers discovered the missing votes, but not until many hours later in most cases, Brunner said. The malfunction first was discovered in Butler County in April, she said.

Forty-four counties, including Licking and Fairfield in central Ohio, use Premier touch-screens. Franklin County uses touch-screens from a different manufacturer.

Critics of Premier and touch-screen voting in general have long argued that the systems aren't secure and can't be trusted. Brunner herself has advocated moving Ohio toward optically scanned paper ballots.

But Premier spokesman Chris Riggall said the programming problem had gone undetected after years of use and both federal and state testing. He stressed that the systems are secure in conjunction with other election safeguards in place.

Shannon Leininger, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials and director of the Ashland County Board of Elections – which uses the Premier touch-screens – said she's confident that problems can be avoided.

She noted that Brunner has been issuing directives recently dealing with security measures surrounding the election and is expected to address computer server security soon.

"This is something that we will watch very closely," Leininger said.

There's a lot about this story which is interesting (it's currently spreading across the press, and gradually being picked up by independent news sources like Democracy Now!). Premier Election Services/Diebold have been the main player in electronic voting machines for some time in America, including dominating the last two presidential elections. Accusations of irregularities in the operation of their machines have been growing, and this sounds to me like a defensive admission on their part; damage control, in short. It'll be interesting to see if it works.

It will also be interesting to see what happens in November: how closely the official results match the exit polls, for example, and whether the same evidence of tampering and fraud emerges as it did after both 2000 and 2004 (and 2006, for that matter).

There are already several documentaries on this topic, and plenty of books and articles (and one very disturbing congressional report). Could be it's the most serious issue in American democracy right now. And if it's true that the last two presidential elections results were basically rigged (which it certainly looks like), then arguing about the quality of Obama's TV ads starts to look a little trivial…

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4 Responses to Diebold admits a glitch…

  1. David L says:

    "…are issuing guidelines to counties for how to avoid the problem."

    How about marking them down on pieces of paper and counting them by hand? (Old Skool.)

  2. Sigh – the best Democracy that money can buy. It's all rather depressing that no-one can apparently come up with a computer voting system that records the vote electronically as well as printing out a receit so you can check that the vote recorded is actually what you intended! ATMs can do it.
    At least in our banana republic, we still have to use a pen and paper, and the results can still be tallied on election night!

  3. Dylan says:

    What's even more depressing is that Diebold make ATMs. So how come they can't make voting machines that give a receipt?Yes, thank god we still vote the old fashioned way. Though every so often some bright spark suggests we start using electronic voting machines. Presumably the same people who think we should also copy the American health system… 😉

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