[R-G] Lost electronic records of Vote in '02 Florida Race Raises '04 Concern

Tim Murphy info at cinox.demon.co.uk
Wed Jul 28 11:39:58 MDT 2004


July 28, 2004
New York Times
htwww.nytimes.com

Lost Record of Vote in '02 Florida Race Raises '04 Concern

By

ABBY GOODNOUGH

MIAMI, July 27 - Almost all the electronic records from the first widespread
use of touch-screen voting in Miami-Dade County have been lost, stoking
concerns that the machines are unreliable as the presidential election draws
near.

The records disappeared after two computer system crashes last year, county
elections officials said, leaving no audit trail for the 2002 gubernatorial
primary. A citizens group uncovered the loss this month after requesting all
audit data from that election.

A county official said a new backup system would prevent electronic voting
data from being lost in the future. But members of the citizens group, the
Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, said the malfunction underscored the
vulnerability of electronic voting records and wiped out data that might
have shed light on what problems, if any, still existed with touch-screen
machines here. The group supplied the results of its request to The New York
Times.

"This shows that unless we do something now - or it may very well be too
late - Florida is headed toward being the next Florida," said Lida
Rodriguez-Taseff, a lawyer who is the chairwoman of the coalition.

After the disputed 2000 presidential election eroded confidence in voting
machines nationwide, and in South Florida in particular, the state moved
quickly to adopt new technology, and in many places touch-screen machines.
Voters in 15 Florida counties - covering more than half the state's
electorate - will use the machines in November, but reports of mishaps and
lost votes in smaller elections over the last two years have cast doubt on
their reliability.

Like "black boxes" on airplanes, the electronic voting records on
touch-screen machines list everything that happens from boot-up to shutdown,
documenting in an "event log" when every ballot was cast. The records also
include "vote image reports" that show for whom each ballot was cast.
Elections officials have said that using this data for recounts is
unnecessary because touch-screen machines do not allow human error. But
several studies have suggested the machines themselves might err - for
instance, by failing to record some votes.

After the 2002 primary, between Democratic candidates Janet Reno and Bill
McBride, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida conducted a study
that found that 8 percent of votes, or 1,544, were lost on touch-screen
machines in 31 precincts in Miami-Dade County. The group considered that
rate of what it called "lost votes" unusually high.

Voting problems plagued Miami-Dade and Broward Counties on that day, when
touch-screen machines took much longer than expected to boot up, dozens of
polling places opened late and poorly trained poll workers turned on and
shut down the machines incorrectly. A final vote tally - which narrowed the
margin first reported between the two candidates by more than 3,000 votes -
was delayed for a week.

Ms. Reno, who ultimately lost to Mr. McBride by just 4,794 votes statewide,
considered requesting a recount at the time but decided against it.

Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade elections division, said on
Tuesday that the office had put in place a daily backup procedure so that
computer crashes would not wipe out audit records in the future.

The news of the lost data comes two months after Miami-Dade elections
officials acknowledged a malfunction in the audit logs of touch-screen
machines. The elections office first noticed the problem in spring 2003, but
did not publicly discuss it until this past May.

The company that makes Miami-Dade's machines, Election Systems and Software
of Omaha, Neb., has provided corrective software to all nine Florida
counties that use its machines. One flaw occurred when the machines'
batteries ran low and an error in the program that reported the problem
caused corruption in the machine's event log, said Douglas W. Jones, a
computer science professor at the University of Iowa whom Miami-Dade County
hired to help solve the problem.

In a second flaw, the county's election system software was misreading the
serial numbers of the voting machines whose batteries had run low, he said.

The flaws would not have affected vote counts, he said - only the backup
data used for audits after an election. And because a new state rule
prohibits manual recounts in counties that use touch-screen voting machines
except in the event of a natural disaster, there would likely be no use for
the data anyway.

State officials have said that they created the rule because under state
law, the only reason for a manual recount is to determine "voter intent" in
close races when, for example, a voter appears to choose two presidential
candidates or none.

Touch-screen machines, officials say, are programmed not to record two
votes, and if no vote is recorded, they say, it means the voter did not cast
one.

But The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, in a recent analysis of the March
presidential primary, reported that voters in counties using touch-screen
machines were six times as likely to record no vote as were voters in
counties using optical-scan machines, which read markings on paper ballots.

The A.C.L.U. of Florida and several other voting rights groups have sued to
overturn the recount rule, saying it creates unequal treatment of voters.
Counties that use optical-scan machines can conduct recounts, though only in
extremely close races.

Mr. Kaplan says that the system crashes had erased data from other elections
besides Ms. Reno's, the most recent being municipal elections in November
2003. Under Florida law, ballot records from elections for state and local
office need be kept for only a year. For federal races, the records must be
kept for 22 months after an election is certified. It was not immediately
clear what the consequences might be of breaching that law.

Mr. Kaplan said the backup system was added last December.

An August 2002 report from Miami-Dade County auditors to David Leahy, then
the county elections supervisor, recommended that all data from touch-screen
machines be backed up on CD's or elsewhere. Professor Jones said it was an
obvious practice long considered essential in the corporate world.

"Any naïve observer who knows about computer system management and who knows
there is a requirement that all the records be stored for a period of
months," Professor Jones said, "would say you should obviously do that with
computerized voting systems."

Buddy Johnson, the elections supervisor in Hillsborough County, which is one
of the state's largest counties and which also uses touch-screen machines,
said his office still had its data from the 2002 elections on separate hard
drives.

Mr. Kaplan of the Miami-Dade elections office could not immediately explain
on Tuesday afternoon the system crashes in 2003.

Martha Mahoney, a University of Miami law professor and member of the
election reform group, said she requested the 2002 audit data because she
had never heard an explanation of the supposedly lost votes that the
A.C.L.U. documented after the Reno-McBride election.

"People can never be sure their vote was recorded the way it was cast, but
these are the best records we've got," she said. "And now they're not
there."

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