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E-Vote Vendor Admits Decade of Flaws

A leading voting machine maker says software used in 34 states has been losing votes.

The news came as a proud affirmation for those drawing attention to election integrity for nearly a decade. They claim that the company — Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) — may have known about its problems much earlier. For election integrity advocates such as Bev Harris at, that Premier actually admitted to such widespread flaws is more shocking than the revelation itself.

Until now, the company dismissed many of the flaws discovered by computer scientists, which Miller-McCune reported in May, as theoretical risks and nothing more.

Premier Election Solutions, the nation's leading manufacturer of voting machines, last week alerted election officials to very real flaws in 1,750 jurisdictions nationwide. The officials will likely go into the November election super-vigilant that the poll tapes from individual vote-counting machines — both optical scanners that count paper ballots and direct-recording electronic voting machines — match the official tallies.

The vote-losing error occurs when results from multiple precincts upload simultaneously into Premier's tabulating software, known as GEMS, either through a memory card or an electronic connection. The result is that larger precincts lose votes.

(An analysis has yet to be done, but anecdotal evidence suggests that larger precincts disproportionately exist in urban centers, where minorities and those more likely to vote Democratic are concentrated.)

Harris and many others discovered serious flaws in the GEMS software several years back, discoveries documented in the HBO film Hacking Democracy. Other evidence suggests the company may have defrauded testers, and a collection of 13,000 internal e-mails obtained in 2003 details hundreds of glitches since 1998.

Premier said the programming glitch was brought to its attention by officials in Ohio during the state's March primary. Premier president Dave Byrd acknowledged the flaws after first denying, in May, that its program caused the Ohio mistakes.

"We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error," Byrd wrote in a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

Harris, who previously commissioned computer scientists to examine the programming language, asserts that these weren't just honest mistakes.

"What it looked like to us is that the program was literally Swiss cheese in terms of the holes and problems in it," she said from her office in Renton, Wash. "From everything I've seen in these systems over the past five years, they were designed for tampering."

As Greg Gordon at McClatchy Newspapers reported last week, the glitch apparently slipped by the National Association of Election Directors, which conducted voluntary evaluations of election systems from the mid-1990s to 2005.

Thomas Wilkey, who headed NASED's Voting Systems Committee for several years, told McClatchy that the group started evaluating voting machines because Congress adopted voluntary standards but failed to create a federal testing agency.
The Election Assistance Commission, established in 2002, took on so-called certification testing in 2005, but as The New York Timesreported this month shortly before the Premier/Diebold flaws came to light, the EAC has yet to certify a single machine.

The EAC found flaws in August 2006 with voting machine tests performed by CIBER Inc., but kept the revelations secret until after the 2006 general election, commission Chair Rosemary Rodriguez acknowledged in the McClatchy story. After losing its certification as a result, CIBER is currently on the verge of regaining approval to perform further tests for the EAC. Another testing company, SysTest Labs, is also under investigation.

Following the Times story, EAC Commissioner Gracia Hillman issued a statement suggesting that county election officials have three choices in the lead-up to the November election:

1) Emergency certify voting-system modifications
2) Waive the EAC certification requirements that many systems still await
3) Do nothing

"Staying the course is not an option for me," Hillman wrote.