Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 17, 2009


Brad Blog - Two stories of thousands of phantom votes being added to election result totals by electronic voting system were in the news over the past couple of days.

One is some news in the older story of 1,500 votes added to a precinct's results in D.C.'s primary election last September. The maker of the failed voting system, Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., originally tried to blame "static electricity" and then "human error" for the failure. But as the D.C. City Council was having none of it, the company has now agreed to allow an independent inspection of its hardware and software, in order to avoid yet another expensive court battle for the beleaguered company.

The other story concerns nearly 5,000 phantom ballots added by the ES&S AutoMark optical-scan system used in last week's Rapid City (Pennington County), South Dakota, City Council race, for some still unknown reason, currently chalked up for now to "software glitch." The discovery of the failure led to a change in the originally reported election results.

The S. Dakota story first, from Wired's Kim Zetter: "The problem occurred when officials combined tallies from optical-scan machines in three precincts in Rapid City in Pennington County. . . The system indicated 10,488 ballots were cast when, in reality, only 5,613 ballots existed, indicating that the glitch wasn't simply a matter of doubling the votes. . .

The incumbent in a city council race who appeared to win the race went to bed believing he'd received just 49.96 percent of the vote, which was more than his opponents received but short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote he needed to avoid a runoff election. A recount found that he actually received 51.8 percent of the votes. Pennington County uses Auto-Mark machines and tabulation software from Election Systems and Software."

And back in D.C. where thousands of "phantom votes" were added in last year's election: "Electoral change advocates said the agreement, finalized yesterday in D.C. Superior Court after the city threatened a lawsuit, is one of the first times a manufacturer of electronic voting machines has been forced to endure a public vetting of how its equipment tabulates returns. "It is certainly going to serve as a precedent not just for further investigations in the District of Columbia, but around the country," said John Bonifaz, legal director for Voter Action, a national voting rights organization. According to a copy of the agreement, the District will have access to technical information on the internal workings of the machines, known as the source code.


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