Election night computer software meltdown in Franklin County
November 11, 2011
On election night 2011 during the evening and into the next morning, Franklin County pollworkers contacted the Free Press telling the paper that they were unable to make the electronic voting machines print out precinct-level results as required by law. This prevented pollworkers from posting election totals at the polling sites at the end of the night.
One pollworker of 35 years reported that "programming errors" had prevented "many precincts" in Franklin County from being able to print their totals for display on the windows of the voting locations."
A concerned citizen also wrote that he was aware of "an unknown number of Franklin County precincts which could not print out their precinct totals last night, due to a 'glitch.' These precincts included mine, where the results were not posted inside the window of the shelter house, as has been customary every preceding election I've lived here."
The Free Press has obtained a Veteran's Day email to polling officials, including precinct judges in Franklin County. In the email, the Franklin County Board of Elections admits to programming software problems that made it impossible to print out precinct result tallies at the end of election night.
The email explained that "In error the programmers for this election inadvertently specified two (2) 'Zero Tapes' and zero (0) 'Results Tapes.'"
[The entire email is posted below this article]
The Franklin County Board of Elections appears to be in violation of the Ohio Secretary of State's Directive 2008-87: "Posting Summary Statements of Precinct Elections Results at Polling Locations." Poll summary print-outs are required by this directive, which has never been rescinded. The directive puts election officials in compliance with Ohio's Revised Code 3505.30.
Were this a close presidential election, Ohio's largest city would have lacked any way to verify precinct level tallies. Official vote totals are electronic and come from the memory cards collected from each voting machines, sent to five regional county centers and run through central tabulators to determine the results. The voting machine print-outs provide the only way to check if the county central tabulators are reflecting the actual precinct-level vote by the people. Without exit polls in this year's election, there is no way to know in many Franklin County precincts that the county vote totals are correct.
By posting and storing the printed election results, the Board of Elections provides checks and balances on the election results. If electronic computer votes are being tampered with at a county or state level, the precinct level print-outs serve as a check as to their accuracy.
A pollworker also noted that "The "programming errors" at the Windermere Elementary School went well beyond not being able to print the totals at the end of the day. We also had problems opening the machines at the beginning of the day and closing the machines at the end of the day. The "master" Personal Electronic Ballots [PEBs] [an electronic device about the size of a hockey puck that is inserted into the machines only when opening them at the beginning of the day and when closing them at the end of the day] been not been "recognized" by several of the machines that we had been attempting to open and close."
The pollworker went on to write: 'We had been able to open all machines in the morning after having figured out which of the machines would recognize which "master" PEB; at the end of the day, however, we had been unable to close three of the machines because they would no longer "recognize" the "master" PEB that had opened them."
One Green Party election observer also found that at the Columbus City Preparatory School the pollworkers had trouble with their PEB's when opening the polls in the morning.
The Franklin County Board of Elections needs to explain to their voters why this electronic computer "glitch" occurred and what they plan to do to guarantee that the necessary checks and balances on the vote totals are in place to prevent electronic theft of the 2012 presidential election.
An electronic voting machine programming "glitch" of this magnitude should give voters pause over the upcoming presidential election. As we know from the 2000 presidential election results in Florida, in a close election those who claim victory first – or are projected the winner regardless of the actual vote count – end up winning the election.
It was a so-called "computer glitch" shifting an estimated 20,000 votes from Gore to Bush that allowed Fox TV News to proclaim George W. Bush the winner of Florida's electoral votes and hence, the U.S. presidential election.
Bob Fitrakis led the Election Observer project this year in Ohio, and in the years 2005-2010.
If you have any information about voting irregularities or voting machine glitches this Election Day, please contact the Free Press at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-253-2571.
EMAIL FROM FRANKLIN BOARD OF ELECTIONS:
November 11, 2011
Dear Polling Official:
On Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at about 7:45 p.m. the machine trouble phone bank suddenly became overwhelmed with calls reporting that you, our poll workers were unable to print results tapes from the last voting machine for the voting locations once all voting machines had been closed. Once we started taking the calls about being unable to print results tapes it took several minutes (an eternity) to determine the cause of the problem, discuss how to most efficiently address the problem to get results reporting and get all operators informed on a backup plan so they could better answer your calls and relay the information. The next problem was that while we were trying to assess the issue, the calls in the queue grew and unfortunately many of you were still waiting for answers.
In the hour from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m. over six hundred calls came to the machine trouble call center and many of the locations probably tried multiple times to get their call through. Our thirteen operators were able to answer three hundred sixty calls and inform the polling officials to pack up their supplies and deliver them to the warehouse without results tapes. In that same period two hundred seventy two calls were abandoned. A robo call was made to all of the Board's PEO cell phones about an hour into this situation.
Let us explain the reason for the problem. As each election is begun there is an election preferences page where the programmers define how voting machines will function for the current election. There are choices on this page for each jurisdiction using the voting system to define. Two of the items on that page that the programmer are to address is whether "Zero Tapes" and "Results Tapes" are to be printed for the election. To have a tape or tapes printed the programmer insert the number of tapes needed in the space provided next to the tape type. Some of you may remember that in past history, the board required two "Zero Tapes" printed as the polls were opened in the morning and two "Results Tapes" as the polls were closed. We eliminated the opening zero tape several years ago and retain the practice of printing results tapes (one to post and one to be returned) with supplies. In error the programmers for this election inadvertently specified two (2) "Zero Tapes" and zero (0) "Results Tapes". The values entered should have been reversed. During the programming and testing of our database settings we open polls on a few machines, put test votes on machines and print results tapes to insure all aspects of the system work. However because we do this testing up to five weeks prior to election day, we use an override pass code rather than the actual process a poll worker would follow to generate the results tape since the date and time on the voting machine is set to a date and time other than 7:30 p.m. (polls closing time) on the date of the election.
We apologize for the mistake that caused this frustration as the end of a very long day. Let me assure you that additional procedures will be implemented to insure that these setting are set properly for future elections. Let me also commend you on the exemplary way you dealt with this challenge and finished out your duties the best that you could. All Franklin County election returns had been checked in, were processed and unofficial results for 324,515 voters were posted by 12:21 a.m.
We thank you for your service to the voters of the county and your understanding in this matter.
William A. Anthony, Jr., Director
Nathan D. Burd, Deputy Director
Karen S. Cotton, Manager of Election Operations
Article originally published by The Columbus Free Press, http://freepress.org.
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