SC deserves new voting machines

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

A SC Legislative Audit Council report released March 27 on the state’s voting machines found serious glitches. “Problems with iVotronic machines that have been reported in elections in other states include vote flipping, candidates missing from screens, lost votes or too many votes, freezing, and batteries,” the report found.

The report didn’t mention that many of those states have quit using the iVotronics, which are no longer being manufactured. While these same problems have been widely observed in South Carolina, every precinct still uses them.”63% of the counties that had problems with the machines have not reported the problems to the State Election Commission (SEC),” the study reported, and recommended the SEC establish a hotline to track problems with the machines.

The SC Progressive Network has helped run a statewide election day hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, in every general election since 2004. Network Director Brett Bursey said, “In the last general election, while all the news was focused on long lines in Richland County, we had calls from five other counties about machine problems causing hours-long waits to vote.”

EP-sign“The SEC has not gathered information about the increasing unreliability of these machines, which are reaching the end of their projected 10-year-lifespan,” Bursey said, and we welcome the LAC report as the start of a serious discussion about what our new voting system should look like.”The Network opposed the purchase of the iVotronic machines in 2004, in part, due to their inability to produce a voter-verified paper ballot that could be used to call a close race. The LAC report concluded, “The audit process in South Carolina is limited by the absence of a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).” The LAC determined that a VVPAT could be added to the existing machines for $17.3 million.

The 2013 House budget includes $5 million that the SEC has requested to begin saving for a new system after 2016.

“Rather than consider patching up these machines, or buying more used ones as Richland County is planning, we need to be looking at better and cheaper ways to vote — well before 2016,” Bursey said.

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The Network has long advocated a voter-verifiable voting system like the one Clemson has devised.

Dr. Juan Gilbert, Chair of the Clemson School of Computing, Human-Centered Computing Division, has been doing research and development on electronic voting systems since 2003. He got a $4 million grant from the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) several years ago to develop a better voting system. The EAC sets standards for voting machines, and has never approved the system currently used in South Carolina.

Gilbert’s “Prime III” meets federal requirements, and was used in a state election for the first time in January in Oregon. Prime III runs on open-source software, on machines available at any computer store. It’s simple, cheap, reliable, produces a voter-verified-paper ballot, and can be publicly owned. The privately owned system we now use costs $1million in annual licensing fees, more on tech support, and runs on secret codes.

“We see no legal impediments to using a system like Clemson has developed, and tremendous advantages,” Bursey said. “Clemson can provide the software, our technical schools can train technicians, and a whole new statewide system would cost little more than adding a paper trail to our old machines.”

Help us now to protect your vote in November!

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey filed a complaint in federal court on June 17 to require the state to preserve voting records in federal elections. Since then, the Network has worked to arrange an audit of the entire June 8 South Carolina primary vote.

As you know, the results of two federal elections — US Senate and Congressional District 1 — were, in the words of numerous well-credentialed experts, “anomalous.”

The Verified Voting Foundation released a statement on the South Carolina primary results that concluded, “Whether specific reports of irregularities in this election are confirmed, the most important fact about South Carolina’s voting system is that most ballots cannot be effectively audited or recounted. Serious concerns about the integrity of the primary (and of other elections conducted using the same technology) are inevitable, and legitimate.” For the full statement go to Verified Voting.org.

Since a “recount” of the voting machine tallies we use in South Carolina can only produce the same number, over and over, an audit of the internal memories on the machines is the only way to discover anomalies — and even this won’t reveal the intent of the voter beyond what is recorded by the software.

South Carolina is one of only eight states that uses paper-less, touch-screen devices that are not routinely audited. Thirty-four states now require a “voter verified paper ballot” that can be referred to in the event of a recount or audit.

“We are not questioning the results of the June 8 primary,” said Bursey. “We are questioning whether the machines we use can be audited to insure that the results reflect the voters’ true choices, and if the preserved records satisfy federal requirements.”

Yesterday, we gave up on trying to get the SC Election Commission to agree to a third-party audit of the entire system. The executive director of the SCEC, as well as the board chair, both had roles in the purchase of these machines in 2004. They maintain that the system works fine and no audit is necessary.

We are now focusing on the federal complaint we have filed that questions whether the intent of the federal records preservation statute can be met using the counties’ current systems and software. Our lawsuit is the only thing standing between us and another election in November with unverifiable results.

We have filed a request for all the compact discs that each county was supposed to have used to record the flash memory of each voting machine.

The state Election Commission does not know if all counties followed this procedure, or whether this procedure adequately preserved the records, or whether what is preserved is sufficient to reliably determine the voters’ intent. The state Election Commission is arguing that it is not its job to keep these records, nor to gather them for us.

We need immediate financial help to make our case. We need to raise $3,000 to cover filing fees and expert assistance. If you can help, please do.

We hope that this case, and the growing public awareness of the inherent shortcomings of our voting system, will lead to a voter-verifiable, recountable, paper record of the most critical part of our democracy — our vote.

Please make a secure donation now and indicate in the gift information “verified voting.”

Thank you for your support.

SC Progressive Network scrambles to preserve voting machine records

If the 46 county election offices are not stopped, within days they will erase the most critical data from the memories of all the voting machines, warns SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey. With controversy over the reliability of the touch-screen computers heating up, the Network is working to ensure that valuable information is not lost as counties prepare the machines for the upcoming run-off elections.

Bursey explained that the state Election Commission only keeps a summary of the information from the counties, and that only by preserving or copying the flash cards (memory chips) inside the computer will there be enough information to perform an audit.

“There is no way the machines you have in South Carolina can be audited without all the information on the computer flash card in each machine,” Dr. Douglas Jones said. Jones has taught at the University of Iowa Department of Computer Science since 1980, served on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems from 1994 to 2004, and chaired the board for three terms.

Jones, who serves on the Federal Election Assistance Commission’s Technical Guidelines Development Committee, has performed numerous audits on voting machines like those used in South Carolina. He provided the Network with an affidavit outlining the necessary steps to preserve data for an audit.

“We have been in communication with the US Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section,” Bursey said. “We are arguing that erasing the data violates the federal statute (USC 42-1974) that requires all records in a federal election to be preserved for 22 months.”

Bursey said that if the Justice Department doesn’t intervene, they will try to get a federal judge to order a halt to erasing the records. “We are not questioning candidates, motives or conspiracy theories,” Bursey said. “We simply want a trustworthy audit to assure that all votes are counted accurately.”

“It’s not difficult or expensive to copy the flash card,” Dr. Jones said. “You can hook up a flash card reader that you use to download pictures on your computer from a digital camera and save the data to a CD.” Replacing the flash card would cost a few dollars for each machine.

The flash card records all actions taken on the machine, the time of the vote or any errors in an “events log.” The “ballot image log” records the actual ballot cast. The detailed information on the flash cards is not saved by the state or counties and is routinely erased to prepare the machines for the next election.

Even as the calls increase for investigations into several races, counties will erase the data and install the ballot program for the June 22 runoff. “In a matter of days, there won’t be any way to determine whether the machines played a role in the unusual vote counts,” Bursey said. “We simply want a trustworthy audit to assure that all votes are counted accurately.”

Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) has sponsored legislation to require voting machines to produce a voter-verifiable paper record that can be used to recount or audit an election.

“With these machines not only is there no paper trail to examine, if the records are erased it’s like cremating the body before the autopsy is performed,” he said.

The Network presented expert testimony at a SC Election Commission Board meeting inĀ  2004, urging the agency not to buy the iVotronic computers that do not have a voter verified paper record. SC is one of four states that has neither a paper record nor a regular audit of its machines.