Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, August 17

Report on Cuyahoga County Voting Problems Triggers Furor

Democratic officials and candidates across the state are expressing outrage and alarm in reaction to yesterday's report of the results of an intensive non-partisan study about the use of Diebold electronic voting machines in Cuyahoga County in the May 2nd primary election.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections hired the Election Science Institute, a San Francisco-based group that is made up primarily of college professors from across the country, to study the primary election. Steven Hertzberg, director of the study, said the study reveals "shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of a close election." According to the 234-page study, one in six electronic voter tallies did not match the election's paper trail. The study said that "The election system, in its entirety, exhibits shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of a close election. These shortcomings merit urgent attention." By law, the paper trail receipts, which are printed and stored in the voting machines, must be used as the official documents in the event of a recount. Of the 467 machines that ESI studied in Cuyahoga County, nearly 10 percent had receipts that were destroyed, illegible, or otherwise compromised. Some of the other issues identified in the report are:
  • Not enough working touch-screen voting machines.
  • Inconsistent setup of voting machines.
  • Voting machines' memory cards lost or substituted.
  • Mistakes in database management.
  • Inconsistent closedown of voting machines.
  • Ballot style complicates manual vote count.
In short, employee blunders and discrepancies between the electronic memory cards in the county's Diebold touch-screen voting machines and the paper receipts would have made a recount in a close race impossible. Diebold, based in North Canton, Ohio, has criticized the report as "flawed" and "erroneous."

Election lawyer and former judge Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus), the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, accused gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati) and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett of failing to address the numerous problems that led to Cuyahoga County's chaotic primary election in May." Brunner also said Bennett's dual roles as state GOP chairman and chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections are interfering with Blackwell's responsibility to investigate the fiasco because Blackwell is the party's candidate for governor, and Blackwell "isn't investigating the matter fast enough and to the fullest extent":
What happened is Bob Bennett . . . put together an oversight committee. Then, once members of the oversight committee had discussions with Ken Blackwell, Blackwell said, 'I'll hold off on my investigation until after the board investigates itself.' I see no movement on the part of Ken Blackwell to do anything further.
Brunner said she doesn't want to increase voters' fears but does want to ensure that all votes are counted in November. She also warned, however, that "[t]hese findings should give Ohio voters pause and grave concern. This is empirical evidence, conducted with scientific accuracy that the ... machines sold by Diebold to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, even with a paper trail, cannot be shown to be completely accurate."

Brunner also said that she believes a critical look at the source code, which are the instructions for how the electronic machines operate, would show whether there was an error. Diebold refuses to allow this, saying that the source code is a protected trade secret.

Republican condemnation of Brunner has been swift and ugly. State GOP spokesman John McClelland accused Brunner of "preying on the fears of a group of individuals" in order to try to gain votes. "Jennifer Brunner is crazy," McClelland continued. "She is a walking conspiracy theory. She should spend more time thinking about how she would actually run the office as opposed to coming up with wild ideas about Republicans."

State Rep. Dan Stewart (D-Columbus), a member of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, appeared at the press conference with Brunner and said he would ask committee chair Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Columbus) to hold hearings on the findings in the ESI report. "Here we go again," said Stewart. "I think one of the safest ways for folks to vote this year is going to be vote early and vote absentee, where you have a definite verified paper trail." Brunner joined in urging people to vote early by absentee ballot, as indicated in an email sent out in connection with the press conference:
Brunner advocates the use of early voting by paper ballot and absentee voting in Ohio this fall to avoid long lines at the polls and to best ensure a more accurate vote count in the fall. She urged each board of elections using Diebold to not use the machines for early or provisional voting but to plan now for extra paper absentee ballots for early and provisional voting.
State Senator Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), an outspoken advocate for verified paper trails for voting machines, reacted to the study with a stinging press release. "The bottom line is that this study is a serious indictment of Ken Blackwell’s failure to protect voting rights and his ethically questionable ties with Diebold," Senator Fedor said. "I am immediately calling for a complete, thorough and independent investigation of all Diebold machines before the November election. We need to verify that the Diebold machines are functioning reliably and that any current problems can and will be fixed."

Senator Fedor has championed the idea of tracking each and every vote. Without paper trails, her press statement continues, "independent auditors would have no way of knowing that the Diebold machines were flawed. The successful implementation of a paper trail also means that voters can and should check their votes to make sure they are being recorded accurately."

"Mismatching numbers between the memory cards, internal memory of the voting machines, and the voter verified paper audits show that there are both machine and human errors," Senator Fedor said. "If Diebold can make ATM machines that print an exact receipt, why can’t Blackwell require them to do the same with their voting machines? We need to study these machines further and get down to the root of the problem. If Diebold doesn’t have anything to hide, why do they continue to not allow full audits of their machines? We must ensure that no one is fearful of casting their vote."

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) said after a press conference on other matters that if electronic voting can't be made reliable, then paper ballots could be considered. "We have an obligation to the people of Cuyahoga County to assure that there is a fair election in November and we must do whatever it takes to see that occurs." U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) joined in, saying that voters "have to be concerned" about their votes in Cuyahoga County and about the fact that the Republican candidate for governor is overseeing the November election.

The Republican reaction has been to insist that the problems are manageable and are being fixed. "I think that the voters of Cuyahoga County can be assured that we are going to have a transparent and flawless and accurate election," said Bob Bennett, who is both chairman of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and also Ohio Republican Party chairman. "What disturbs me about this report is there was no opportunity for ESI to sit down with the vendor [Diebold] in this case to reconcile some of these differences." Bennett claims that board officials have been working to correct problems an appointed panel found in an internal evaluation of the May 2 primary election. The commissioners hired Tom Hayes, a former Cuyahoga County elections director, on a temporary basis as project manager to oversee the fixes. However, Bennett and the other Republican member of the board voted not to fire Cuyahoga County Elections Director Michael Vu, heavily criticized in the internal evaluation for the May primary fiasco. Blackwell has declined to take action to break the deadlock between those two and the two Democratic members who voted to remove Vu, citing a law that appears to limit his authority in that situation. A different provision, however, appears to confer on Blackwell the power to remove a county elections director on his own intiative.


At 1:32 PM, Anonymous BSB=Idiotic, Hughlock=Brain Dead said...

Russell Hughlock who moderates the Buckeye State Blog is a COMPLETE (insert any crude word you wish)



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