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Clerk responds to criticism over policies / Center Post Dispatch / 5-24-12

SB12-155 Violates Colorado Constitution * Allows Voter Intimidation * Ballots Would be Traceable / 4-2-12

'Phantom' votes raise doubts for November

ByPat Beall

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Posted: 11:19 p.m. Saturday, June 2, 2012

Almost half of Florida's voters will have their ballots counted this November by machines that can malfunction in as little as two hours and start adding votes.

A New York study found that the precinct-based vote counter added votes in some races on a ballot, which can invalidate some or all of the votes.

Although not used in Palm Beach County, Election Systems & Software's DS200 scanner will count votes in some of the most populous counties in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange.

State elections officials stand behind the scanner, which they say has been thoroughly tested.

Even so, the manufacturer issued a nationwide bulletin warning that the scanner needs to be carefully cleaned to avoid adding "phantom" votes.

The addition of extra votes can generate overvoting - instances where two or more candidates are chosen on a ballot in the same race. If a voter doesn't correct the ballot, his or her vote in that race is thrown out. In 2008, overvoting rates were so high in Florida counties using the scanner that an estimated 11,000 people lost their vote for president, an analysis by the nonprofit watchdog group Florida Fair Elections Coalition concluded. Miami-Dade County precincts with large numbers of minority and non-English­-speaking voters were especially hard-hit.

Ballot design was part of the problem, the coalition said. However, the group requested that the state Division of Elections temporarily remove the DS200 from its list of authorized voting equipment.

That didn't happen. But the Florida report on the DS200 caught the attention of election watchers in New York, who filed suit to stop the hardware from being used there.

While the suit was pending, voters went to the polls for the 2010 elections.

Overvoting problems immediately surfaced. A Bronx precinct recorded especially high levels of invalid votes. There, elections officials discovered a scanner was reading candidates' names as marked, even when voters had not touched them. The problem surfaced after the scanner was left on for two hours, not an uncommon practice in precincts with busy daylong voting.

ES&S emphasizes that the New York report involved a single malfunctioning scanner. "The DS200 has been used in hundreds of elections and has counted millions of ballots accurately," said an ES&S spokeswoman.

"We don't know that problems were limited," responded Lawrence Norden, deputy director of New York University Law School's Brennan Center Democracy Program and author of nationally recognized white papers on voting systems.

In New York, elections officials examined machines in only one precinct, Norden pointed out, and overvoting occurred throughout the city.

"I think that the fact that this could happen to one scanner means it could happen to all scanners," said attorney Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections. "There was nothing to indicate that this problem is unique to this machine."

Further, so-called phantom voting is only one problem linked to overvoting and the scanners. Critics say there's a design issue that lends itself to trouble. Unlike many other optical scanners counting Florida votes, the DS200 was not designed to automatically spit out a ballot when there is an overvote, which would give a person the chance to correct the mistake.

Instead, it was designed to offer voters the choice of hitting a red button marked with a large "x" or a green button marked "accept."

The voter must hit the red button to correct the overvote. If the voter hits accept, his vote will be accepted but tossed out. "It's confusing," said Kitty Garber, research director for Florida Fair Elections.

In New York, ES&S agreed to reconfigure its equipment to provide clearer instructions on what voters should do if they overvoted. Similarly, said ES&S, " there have been successive DS200 message enhancements (color and word changes) incorporated into Florida" systems. The state did not elaborate on what the changes were.

Florida overvoting, meanwhile, hasn't gone away. Election Day overvote rates for counties using the DS200 in the 2010 Senate race were roughly 64 percent higher than scanners with the second-highest level of overvotes.

But New York is sticking with the revised DS200. Kellner describes the ES&S system as state of the art - though, he adds, it still takes rigorous pre-election testing and post-election audits to ferret out possible technological problems. After all, he said, " you have to keep in mind these are just machines."

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Posted: 05/31/2012 01:00:00 AM MDT

Colorado taxpayers paid for errors in Saguache County tax assessments

Updated: 05/31/2012 08:27:36 AM MDT By Sara Burnett
The Denver Post
The exterior of the Saguache County building on Thursday, February 24, 2011 (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)
SAGUACHE — Colorado taxpayers have oversubsidized schools in Saguache County by an undetermined amount of money for up to a decade, thanks to a county assessor who hasn't kept up in adding new construction to the cash-strapped county's tax rolls, a state-ordered examination has found.
The omission meant that some property owners — including Saguache County commissioners and other government officials — have paid property taxes that are a fraction of what they should be, while others paid more than their fair share.
Among those who benefited are a county commissioner who paid $34 in taxes last year on 120 acres and a house valued at $328,279, and the owners of a bed and breakfast that has operated since 2007 but whose property is still being taxed as vacant land. Those property owners paid $392 in taxes last year, though the property was listed for sale at one point for $1.25 million.
The lack of assessed value meant the state picked up the tab for what may be tens of thousands of dollars in school funding that it otherwise would not have been required to pay — only a portion of which will have to be reimbursed.
That the county was able to get so far behind without drawing state scrutiny also revealed a lapse that extends statewide: In the nearly 30 years that Colorado has audited assessors' offices, it never has verified that new construction is being added to the tax rolls.
That's because it never occurred to lawmakers or state officials that an assessor — intentionally or not — might not make adding new construction a top priority, state officials said. New construction is not subject to the same TABOR limits as other types of revenue.
"It's very much to the assessor's advantage to pick it up," said Cherice Kjosness, manager of administrative resources for the state Division of Property Taxation and the person who is overseeing the reappraisal. "It's one way to make your commissioners happy."
When that property isn't added, it affects not just the county and its taxing bodies but property owners statewide.
"If there's big pieces of that (local property tax) missing, we all pay a little more," Colorado Property Tax Administrator JoAnn Groff said.
Complaints filed
The extent of the Saguache County situation surfaced last year after two complaints were filed with the state, and a state audit revealed problems with how home sales were being recorded.
One of the complaints was filed by the Baca Grande Water District, which stated in a letter to the State Board of Equalization that it had sent Saguache County Assessor Jackie Stephens a list of 85 residential properties that have had homes on them for many years — some more than a decade — but are still reflected in county records as vacant land. The district also alerted Stephens of properties with improvements that had not been added, the letter states.
Years earlier, the water district had made a monetary donation to the assessor's office to try to get the property records brought up to date, but Stephens — who said the work wasn't getting done because she was understaffed — never got fully caught up, a lawyer for the district wrote.
"By not valuing properties appropriately, the natural result is that some property owners are shouldered with paying more taxes while others slide by without paying their fair share, all while receiving the same services," the letter states.
Among those paying more were Terry and Trish Cole, who bought a home in the Baca Grande area of eastern Saguache County — in the shadow of Great Sand Dunes National Park — in 2000.
The Coles always felt their taxes were high, but they felt bad about complaining because they knew how the local school districts, located in one of Colorado's poorest counties, were struggling.
They filed their complaint with the state in May 2011 after they tried to compare their tax bill to their neighbors' and learned that the information wasn't available online. Nor were they able to contact anyone in the assessor's office.
When the information finally was available, the Coles learned their three-bedroom, two-bath home was valued much higher than similar neighboring properties. Over four years, they determined, they had paid nearly seven times the $392 in property tax paid by the owners of the nearby bed and breakfast still listed on county tax rolls as vacant land.
At the time of the complaint, the bed-and-breakfast property was listed for sale at $1.25 million.
"We believe in paying our taxes," Terry Cole said. "We also believe in fairness. It was obvious it wasn't fair."
Stephens told The Denver Post she accepts responsibility for what happened.
"It was my job to do," she said, "and I slacked off."
Reappraisals orderedIn most counties, there is a clear, fairly simple process for ensuring new construction is considered when a property's value is determined. Typically, property owners must get a building permit from their county land-use office when they want to construct a new home or other structure.
The assessor's office is responsible for regularly looking through the permits, verifying if the construction actually occurred and, if so, recalculating the value of the property. The information is then updated in the county's computer system.
That didn't happen in Saguache County.
In October, the State Board of Equalization ordered that all residential property in the county — about 477 properties — be reappraised under state supervision. It was the first such order to be issued in about six years, Groff said.
Working with the county, state officials discovered about 1,535 building permits that had been issued but that the state could not confirm had ever been reviewed and added to the county's tax rolls. Some of those permits were more than 10 years old.
Stephens said she had several factors working against her. Saguache County is about 3,200 square miles, and until recently, her office had just four full-time staff members. While many homes are concentrated in a handful of communities such as Saguache, Crestone and Center, others are in more desolate areas, some of which cannot be reached in winter or when unpaved roads are muddy, she said.
The situation worsened in recent years when the county switched computer systems — a conversion that took more than two years and was plagued with problems, Stephens said. With that process consuming the bulk of her time, she couldn't keep up with other duties.
Though the reappraisal is only about half complete, 2011 notices of valuation and some 2011 tax notices now available online provide a clearer picture of just how far off some of the previous assessments were.
County Commissioner Michael Spearman, for instance, paid $34.12 in taxes in 2010 on his 120-acre property near Del Norte, which includes outbuildings and a home he built several years ago. The 2011 notice values the home at $328,279, and his 2011 tax bill is $1,736.
Commissioner Linda Joseph lives on property she co-owns that is known as EarthArt Village. The "environmental, social and spiritual" sustainable community is on 480 acres near Crestone and has three common buildings, according to its website. In 2009, its owners paid $49 in property taxes. That amount increased to $672 in 2010 and $673 in 2011, according to tax notices.
And county co-administrator Wendi Maez's home on 1.25 acres outside Center was taxed $8.53 in 2009 and $13.15 in 2010. The 2011 bill for the same property is $548.96.
Joseph said her appraisal was completed years ago but was not put into the computer system until 2010, because of the computer-system conversion. Maez did not respond to a request for comment.
Spearman deferred comment to Commissioner Sam Pace, who said Spearman and others repeatedly asked Stephens to update their property values — an account Stephens confirmed.
Pace said he believes Stephens is doing a "wonderful job" in a difficult position. But he also said politics may have played a role in how things went wrong.
Stephens, he noted, has been re-elected multiple times since she took office 22 years ago.
"Nobody wants to pay any higher taxes, and I'm sure that has something to do with it," Pace said. "The majority of citizens of the county have been happy with the way they've been being assessed."
2-year repayment limit
State officials agreed the work of a rural assessor comes with unique challenges.
Adding to the problem is the fact that some counties don't require residents to obtain building permits or to file certificates of occupancy — an indication that a new structure has been completed and is now occupied.
"If a permit doesn't have to be pulled, there's a chance the assessor won't catch it," Groff said.
Under state law, if new construction or improvements are not added to a property's value because of a government error, the county may go back to taxpayers and bill them for no more than two years' difference between what they should have paid and what they did pay.
That additional money will be distributed, as appropriate, between the local taxing districts and the State Education Fund — the pool of income-tax revenue that subsidizes school districts that cannot reach minimum per-pupil funding based on their local tax revenue.
Bob Shaffer, the chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education, said there are occasionally "anomalies" in local tax situations that require some kind of adjustment in state payments.
But the Saguache situation is unusual because of how long it has gone on, he said. The problem is exacerbated by the two-year limit for recouping payments.
"For years, the rest of the state has been paying more than their fair share," he said. "(The two-year limit) means the county's been on a gravy train for another eight years."
Meanwhile, the state Division of Property Taxation is working to ensure that future audits will catch similar problems earlier, Kjosness said.
Staffers will recommend to the state legislative council, which oversees the audits of county assessors, that starting next year, auditors begin verifying that assessors are keeping up with building permits or certificates of occupancy.
Because the state has never done so, Groff said there's no way to say for certain whether cases such as Saguache have occurred elsewhere.
"We hope not," she said.
Sara Burnett: 303-954-1661 or

Read more: Colorado taxpayers paid for errors in Saguache County tax assessments - The Denver Post


May 24, 2012

Clerk responds to criticism over policies

SAGUACHE When Republican Carla Gomez decided at the last minute to run against Melinda Myers in the recent recall election, she promised supporters she would tape meetings, get rid of the M650 and promote transparency.
But to date, Gomez has been able to do very little, if anything, she promised initially, although all those visiting the courthouse comment on the friendly and cordial atmosphere in the clerk's office these days. And many have voiced appreciation at being able to renew their licenses in Saguache once again.
Gomez met with members of the Citizens for Fair Government (CFG) last Wednesday to answer some questions about why she hasn't been able to do as voters asked.
And the answers didn't come easily. She explained that it had taken years for conditions in the clerk's office to arrive at the state they are in and it will take time to right things.
"This didn't get this way overnight and it won't be fixed overnight," Gomez said.
She confirmed that she has engaged in "many conversations" with both the Secretary of State's Office (SOS) and Elections Systems and Software, (ES&S) concerning preparations for the upcoming primary and general election. Gomez said she also has been in touch with various members of the Colorado County Clerk's Association and has sought their input and advice.
While stating that she does not want to use the M650 for the election, Gomez added that "The M650 is an excellent machine other clerks and SOS offices around the country say it is an excellent machine. The clerks say some small rural areas have M650s and they have no problems." Saguache voters, however, have no confidence in the device, she noted, so "the SOS recommended the M100."
Because she had a $7,000 credit with ES&S, Gomez said she was able to rent the M100's and for $6,000 was also able to purchase set-up and training for the devices. When one CFG member asked why the votes could not be hand-counted , Gomez explained that this process would be "very, very, tedious. We are hoping to have the election night results pretty early with the help of the machine."
CFG member Lisa Cyriacks asked Gomez if the $6,000 included printing the ballots and Gomez replied it did not. "Postage alone [required to send out mail-in ballots] is astronomical," Gomez said. She later stated it would cost another $8,000 for ES&S to print the ballots. Another member noted that if a hand count was done or the Accuvote machines used, ballots could be printed locally, saving thousands of dollars.
CFG member Allen Jones asked whether it would not have made more sense to refurbish Accuvote machines already owned by the county, or buy new ones for approximately $600. "Or why not hand count?" Jones queried.
Judy Page agreed with Jones and expressed her dissatisfaction over having any dealings with the controversial voting device firm, ES&S. Mike Cowan then specifically asked Gomez not to have any dealings with ES&S, commenting, "Why are they trying to take over the State of Colorado? We don't need them in our county."
Cowan was referring to the fact that ES&S is working with the SOS to become the sole voting device vendor for the State. Gomez commented she was very concerned as well, but in an earlier conversation indicated that ES&S personnel will be present during the elections.
Members also objected that Gomez still is not taping meetings and asked her to keep this as a priority. Anne Neilsen told Gomez she appreciates what she is doing but added, "Don't let the commissioners manipulate you."
The discussion then moved on to the unsettled lawsuit against the county brought by Marilyn Marks during Melinda Myers term in office . Steve Carlson told Gomez that Marks would be willing to settle for $119,000 if ES&S pays its share of court costs and $192,000 if it does not.
Marks stated last week that already her attorney's fees well exceed $200,000 now and that she would be willing to negotiate a reasonable settlement. While Gomez stated at the meeting, after much coaxing, that, "Yes I would like to see this thing settled and I will let the commissioners know this," Marks said she has heard nothing from the county following the Wednesday meeting.
Marks commented Monday that she now has several Colorado Open Record Act requests in to Gomez and that many of these haven't been answered within the prescribed time period. Some of the requests ask for records of money spent so far on the election process and conversations with the SOS on election equipment.
According to the SOS, they have no record of any e-mails between their consultants and Gomez. A conference call with the SOS and Marks concerning the use of M100s and the costs of the election so far was scheduled to take place Tuesday between two unaffiliated members of CFG, a Democrat member and two Republican members.
At the last minute the call was canceled, and only the Republican members spoke privately with Gomez. The press was excluded from the meeting. Some CFG members are concerned that transparency is becoming an issue with the clerk's office once again, despite hopes that the recall would resolve this issue.


By Brad Friedman on 4/2/2012 4:55pm
Palm Beach, FL Elections Settled by Hand-Count After Op-Scan Computer Misreported Results

After admitting a failure in its software caused the problem, Dominion Voting changes its story...
A public hand-count of paper ballots in Palm Beach County, FL over the weekend has decisively determined the winners and losers of several disputed elections after paper ballot optical-scan computer tallying systems made by Sequoia Voting Systems (now owned by Dominion Voting) declared the incorrect "winners" of several races in a March 13th election.

But a dispute over who is to blame for the initial failure flared up again over the weekend as Dominion issued a statement that seems to contradict their previous admission that their software was to blame.

"The hand-count was 100%. We weren't missing a ballot," the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told The BRAD BLOG this afternoon about what happened over the weekend. "Frankly, without paper ballots and without audits, we would have let the wrong winners serve."

What will happen next, however --- for Palm Beach County, one of Florida's largest, as well as the other 285 jurisdictions across the country where the very same voting system is currently in use --- is anything but clear...

Democracy's Gold Standard

John Greene, who was initially announced as the loser of the Wellington City Council race by the Dominion/Sequoia system was pleased with the results of Saturday's public hand-count which was only allowed in the state of Florida --- where it is now illegal to manually examine paper ballots for a hand-count after they've already been tabulated by a computer --- after a judge gave the okay.

"Regardless of where people stood, who they supported, I think they really feel that we've got the right people elected, their vote counted," Greene told WPTV, the local NBC affiliate in Palm Beach County, FL after the manual count. [See video embedded below].

As importantly, if not more so, Shauna Hostetler, who was initially announced as the "winner" of Wellington's Council Seat 1, only to learn she didn't actually win after all, said, "I am very happy that the recount was approved and done and thankful for those who gave their whole day here."

Saturday's public hand-count of paper ballots, which we've long described as "Democracy's Gold Standard" (at least when its done on Election Night, at the precinct, in front of the public) settled all questions about the results. But it hasn't settled all question about what went wrong, and whether voters in the 14 states which currently use the faulty Dominion/Sequoia system --- many of them swing states --- should rely on the results reported by it.

Rather than hand-counting in the first place, and avoiding such problems, Palm Beach County relied on easily-manipulated, oft-malfunctioning optical-scan computer systems to tally the paper ballots. Or, in this case, to mis-tally the ballots. Unfortunately, the state of Florida gives them little choice, as hand-counting ballots is now illegal in the Sunshine State.

Similar, if not identical paper-based computer tallying systems are set to be used across the country for some 70% of the votes cast in this year's Presidential Election, despite the myriad of failures and vulnerabilities in such systems that we've been reporting here at The BRAD BLOG for nearly a decade.

As we explained last week, the computer systems in Palm Beach had mis-reported the results of several races, including the race for Mayor. A post-election audit (really, a spot-check, now mandated by Florida law) tipped off election officials that something had gone terribly wrong. After receiving permission from the court, the hand-count was carried out and the questions were settled. At least the questions about this particular election.

This time officials and candidates and voters were lucky enough that someone bothered to discover the problem. But who knows if that has always been the case in Palm Beach County and elsewhere that the same and similar systems are used.

"I have a feeling that this isn't the first time, but we never noticed," Bucher told us today, referring to elections that took place prior to her tenure as Supervisor of Elections before new state laws mandated a manual 2% post-election spot-check "audit" of paper ballots.

Dominion Changes Its Story

On March 23rd, Waldeep Singh, the Vice President of Dominion Voting, the Canadian-based firm which now oversees and services Sequoia Voting Systems' hardware and software, issued a statement on behalf of the company [PDF] taking responsibility for the failure. He chalked up the failure to "a mismatch between the software which generates the paper ballots and the central tally system."

By Friday, however, Bucher's main contact with the company, Vice President Howard Cramer, was suddenly "on vacation" and unreachable, according to Bucher, and the company was singing a very different tune in a separate statement [PDF] sent directly to the Florida Secretary of State.

"It is clear that the mismatch was not the result of a 'bug' that generated this anomaly," the letter from Dominion President John Poulos to Sec. of State Ken Detzner reads. Poulos says that the software used to create ballot definitions and process results "acted as designed and, as such, it is our opinion that this is not an issue that could have been revealed during state certification testing."

The company concedes, however, "that a shortcoming in the user interface of WinEDS 3.1 makes identifying and recovering from such an event more difficult than it could be."

Poulos went on to recommend that upgrading to WinEDS 4.0, a version which is not currently certified for use by the state of Florida, "provides enhanced features which make it easier for the operator to take corrective action when such a mismatch occurs more readily than in the existing version of software which is in use."

In other words, it wasn't a bug, it was a feature. A bad one. And one that Bucher says her staff could have done little about, even if they had known about the system's shortcoming in advance, since the software is proprietary and her staff is not even allowed to look at most parts of it --- by law. She says she had never even seen the screen the company now recommends using in order to correct the problem, even if they had noticed it before the election somehow. The industry standard "Logic and Accuracy" tests she had performed before the election failed to reveal the problematic 'feature'.

[NOTE: The Sequoia Voting Systems' hardware and software, as The BRAD BLOG revealed in an exclusive series of reports in 2008, summarized here, is actually the Intellectual Property of the Hugo Chavez-tied Venezuelan firm Smartmatic. When Dominion purchased Sequoia Voting Systems in 2010, just after purchasing Diebold Election Systems' assets as well, to become the second largest e-voting vendor in the country, they lied about Sequoia's Chavez-tied ownership of their Intellectual Property in the press release announcing the acquisition. We reported that rather remarkable point to very little notice at the time. To our knowledge, nothing has changed in that ownership since our 2008 and 2010 series of reports.]

Dominion President Poulos' newer claim to the Secretary of State, that the problem was "not the result of a 'bug'", is in stark contrast to what Dominion Vice President Singh had told Bucher previously, when he sent her his statement on company letterhead explaining: "This synchronization difficulty is a shortcoming of the version of software currently being used by Palm Beach County and that shortcoming has been addressed in a subsequent version of the software."

A "Product Advisory Notice" issued March 30th [PDF] --- almost three weeks after the failed Palm Beach County election and two days after Poulos' letter to the Sec. of State claiming it wasn't the fault of the software --- backs up Bucher's account that the problem is, in fact, in the software:

When a WinEDS database is edited for example to add title blocks to an AVC Edge display layout, the contest order on the ballots in the database can become out of sync with the contest order shown on the corresponding paper ballots. If not identified via the Ballot Management component of WinEDS or through pre-election Logic and Accuracy Testing and corrected, election results will show the correct number of votes, but assigned to the wrong candidate or measure response.
Dominion's "Product Advisory Notice" goes on to explain how to overcome the problem in several different versions of their software and even indicates the problem still exists in WinEDS 4.0 --- the version Poulos told the state to upgrade to --- despite the fact that Singh's statement to Bucher claims the "shortcoming has been addressed in a subsequent version of the prevent such an anomaly from occurring in the future."

The "Product Advisory Notice" is "an admission," Bucher says, that the failure was not due to her or her staff, but that "the software operated just as it should have" --- incorrectly, in this case, with losers being reported as "winners" and vice versa.

She says the designer of the program also admitted to her that he had seen the problem before.

'The Technology Failed, Our Procedures Prevailed'

The inaccurate results were discovered during a routine 2% post-election hand-audit of the March 13th election, Bucher explained.

"We go in to have the post-election audits, 15 cities worked fine, one city didn't. The ballots we counted in the first two precincts matched the results (reported by the poll tapes printed by the precinct-based optical-scanners) for a different candidate."

She knew they had a problem, but what to do about it was another question. Legal complaints started flying, and a judge ultimately allowed for the complete hand-count that occurred over the weekend. Without an order from a judge, it is illegal to hand-count ballots in the state of Florida, even if problems are found like the one that was discovered by the Supervisor of Elections in Palm Beach County during the spot-check of the March 13th election.

Bucher was a Democratic legislator in Florida when the state passed the law allowing for just six days to certify an election. She says she was "ecstatic" when they were able to broker a deal that allowed for the 2% post-election audit, but didn't realize at the time that election officials would run smack-dab into a nightmare if results were certified before the post-election spot-check audit could be satisfactorily completed and resolved in the event that problems were discovered.

In this case, they were able to resolve them with a hand-count and the permission of a judge. In the event of a larger race, such as a Presidential Election, Bucher is not as confident they wouldn't have had a 2000-style nightmare on her hands.

Palm Beach County was the home of the infamous Butterfly Ballot during the 2000 Presidential Election debacle, though Bucher, who says she ran for Supervisor of Elections to fix the long-standing problems in Palm Beach, was only elected in 2008. She says the county has run 23 successful elections under her stewardship, to her knowledge, until this one.

This time, she says, "the technology failed, but our procedures prevailed."

Whether or not that will be the case come this November remains a separate question. Right now, she says, she's uncertain how the county --- the largest one in the state to use the Dominion/Sequoia system --- will proceed. The failure is currently under investigation by the state, though clearly Bucher is furious at the way Dominion has handled the problem and then, more recently, tried to suggest to the media that the fault was hers rather than theirs.

The options for moving to a different voting system and a different vendor, as allowed by the state of Florida, which has yet to even certify the newer version of WinEDS, are few. She says moving to another company's optical-scanners, such as ES&S, whose systems are used across most of the state, is not a good option either, as there have been reported failures with their systems as well.

In February, we reported on ES&S optical scanners which failed in the state of New York during the 2010 election. In one South Bronx precinct, as discovered almost two years after the fact by the New York Daily News, the op-scanners mistallied some 70% of the ballots cast in the September primary election and then 54% of the ballots cast in the November general election.

Concern about similar failures by secret vote counting hardware and software led one Board of Elections in the state, in Columbia County, NY as we recently reported, to hand-count 100% of their ballots in every single election.

In Florida, however, Bucher is allowed no such option, as the state legislature has made hand-counting paper ballots illegal without a court order. That has left the Elections Supervisor none too happy. "I don't want you to have to trust your election officials," Bucher told us. "I think your election officials have to prove it."

That's difficult to do when we're all forced to trust in secret vote counting by oft-failed computer systems. And yet, that's what voters will be forced to do once again around the country this year.

According to Verified Voting's database, voting systems made by Sequoia, featuring the "not-bug" which hit Palm Beach in March, are used in some 285 jurisdictions around the country, including a number of swing states.

Sequoia systems will be used again this year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and almost all of Wisconsin, where the GOP Presidential Primary will be held tomorrow, and where contentious recall elections for the state's Republican Governor Scott Walker, his Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state Senators are set to begin next month.

Similar paper-based optical-scan systems are used in every other state in the union, and in almost none of them are results fully verified --- or often even verified at all --- before "winners" are announced to the public and official certified as "accurate", whether they actually are or not.

WPTV Newschannel 5's weekend report on the successful public hand-count of paper ballots in Palm Beach County's incorrectly reported Wellington elections follows below...


New Mexico elections officials voice dissatisfaction over voting equipment

ES&S M100 Voting Machine

By Trip Jennings | 07.17.09 | 12:01 am The New Mexico Independent

The ES&S M100 voting tabulator is an example of voting equipment election officials may decide to scrap

SANTA FE – New Mexico spent $18 million on a new paper ballot system just three years ago.

But state and county elections officials are so frustrated with the cost of maintaining New Mexico’s fleet of new voting tabulators and voting machines for the disabled that they’re considering scrapping the equipment in favor of leasing new machines.

Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo II told state lawmakers Thursday that his agency is investigating the idea of leasing equipment and, later in an interview, added that it was a “serious move.”

“We are investigating the possibility of completely changing systems,” Trujillo said Thursday following a legislative meeting at the state Capitol. “The county clerks have asked us to look at that possibility, as long as there isn’t a $20 million up front to buy a bunch of new machines. We wouldn’t expect the Legislature to buy into this.”

Trujillo mentioned Premier Elections as the firm that the state is contacting to see if it could supply such services.

Trujillo and the president of an association of local elections officials cautioned Thursday that there were many unanswered questions, and that a decision to change voting systems, if it ever came to that, is still several years off.

But the news that elections officials are so dissatisfied with the state’s current voting system comes only three years after New Mexico converted to a paper ballot system and spent $18 million to buy more than 1,900 voting tabulators and specially designed voting machines for the disabled.

The state purchased the equipment from Nebraska-based ES&S. A representative of ES&S could not be reached Thursday night for reaction.

The impetus for the possible revolt is two fold, officials said. First and foremost, the price ES&S wants to charge the state for maintaining the machines New Mexico bought when it converted to the paper ballot system has angered many elections officials. Secondly, there’s the “overall unreliability of the ES&S equipment. ES&S equipment will just stop working. No warning. No reason,” added Sheryl Nichols, president of the New Mexico County Clerks Affiliate, an association for local elections officials.

As of now, most of the state’s voting tabulators and voting machines for the disabled are not covered by a maintenance agreement because of what ES&S is charging for the service, officials said.

Originally ES&S wanted $1.3 million to maintain the voting equipment. In 2007, the firm sent bills for maintenance to New Mexico’s 33 counties, who have custody of most of the state’s more than 1,900 voting tabulators and more than a thousand voting machines for the disabled. The price left many counties in sticker shock. And most counties balked at paying.

Recently, ES&S sent a new cost estimate for maintenance and for training technicians to provide that maintenance — just under $600,000, Trujillo said.

Trujillo said he hadn’t had time to carefully read the offer.

Trujillo insisted that announcing publicly that the state was considering the leasing of voting equipment was a serious possibility and not just a negotiating tactic to force down ES&S’s price.

“But it doesn’t hurt as a negotiating tactic,” he said.

He added that there’s a possibility of the state staying with ES&S “if the price is right.”

Some state lawmakers left the meeting disgusted after hearing all the problems associated with finding reasonably priced maintenance for the state’s voting equipment.

“It’s really sad that the state has wasted this much money,” state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said of the state’s spending on the new system three years ago.

State legislator attempts to block election transparency

Sunshine needed in commissioner's boardroom - LTE
History in the making

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