Who approved such a deeply flawed system and what must be done in the future?

On July 29, 2005 it was reported that certification of the Diebold TSx GEMS v. 1.18.22 had been denied by the Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson. The initial report told of a 10% failure rate due to jammed printers and computer “crashes”. [1]

Just 5 days later, the newspapers reported that the failures were twice as bad as originally reported, and the failures were not centered in the printers but were instead software issues. Of the 96 voting machines tested, 19 failed with a total of 21 crashes resulting in a blue screen and messages about an "illegal operation" or a "fatal exception error." Also, 10 machines had a total of 11 printer jams. Nearly one-third of the test machines failed in one way or another. [2]

This failure of 29 voting machines out of 96 is a revealing example of what can go wrong in an election when voting systems that are not ready to be used are subjected to a real-life scenario. What if the state had followed the lead of the federally certified Independent Testing Authorities and passed this system as being acceptable? What if the state had followed the lead of the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) Voting Systems Panel and accepted this system as fully qualified for use in an election?

What does Diebold have to say about their voting systems and their failure rate? On July 15, 2003 Diebold Elections Systems Inc. responded to a request posed by the state of Ohio: “Provide documentation to support the claim of a 20-year DRE life expectancy.” The response from Diebold was, in part, “If a customer had 4 elections per year, then the unit would theoretically continue for 250 years before failing.”[3] Since Diebold was referring to their TS system, how much longer life might they have estimated for their newer, improved TSx systems that failed so badly in California during a 7-hours mock-election?

So what does all of this prove? Of course the obvious answer is that the Diebold TSx with AccuView voter-verified paper audit trail (vvpat) printer is a miserable failure. It also certainly lends credence to all who have been asking for a voter verified paper ballot and audit requirements.

On May 16, 2005 the Diebold TSx voting system (the one that failed testing in California) was given the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED)  “Seal of Approval” and the EAC gave the system its federal qualification approval. This was the result of what is supposed to be a rigorous period of testing and inspection by federally certified Independent Testing Authorities (ITA). Yet, at its first trial run, over 30% of the approved units failed to function as they are supposed to function.

How many of the systems that are now being used in states and counties across the country were passed through this same testing process with serious flaws that weren’t detected? How does anyone know that the machines that they are using to cast their votes are working properly even though they passed through the process successfully?

A voter verified paper ballot and audit requirements are certainly essential to ensure the machines can be checked for accuracy. But there is a more urgent need.

Right now counties in Utah, Mississippi, and Ohio are planning to purchase the exact same machines as those that failed testing in California. Why has no one at the EAC or NASED demanded a recall and a disqualification of the Diebold TSx GEMS v. 1.18.22? Why has nothing been done to warn the elections officials in those states that this system is a failure? In response to the testing failure the Secretary of State of California has established stringent new standards for all voting systems in his state.[4] Why hasn’t there been a similar response from the EAC or NASED?

We can only hope that something is done quickly.

[1]  “E-voting machines rejected”, by Ian Hoffman, Oakland Tribune, 7/29/2005
[2]  “Initial report undersold e-vote snafus”, by Ian Hoffman, Oakland Tribune, 08/03/2005
[3] “Representations made by Diebold to the State of Ohio regarding its AccuVote Voting Machine”
[4] “McPherson Toughens Up On Voting Machine Makers”, by Political Desk, American Chronicle 03 August 2005

VotersUnite! is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities.