The Right to Have Our Votes Count
In early August, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner sued Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold), alleging that Premier’s e-voting machines lost hundreds of votes cast in Ohio’s primary election. At first, Premier blamed the machines’ malfunction on conflicts caused by antivirus software from McAfee Inc. Now, Premier has accepted responsibility for the problem. In a letter to Secretary Bruner, Premier’s President admitted that logic errors in the machines’ source code caused the machines to lose the votes.
This is a major problem not just for Ohio but for all of the states using Premier’s e-voting machines in November. (Premier is one of the four top vendors of electronic voting machines used by states across the country). Premier has released a product advisory notice, telling users of its e-voting machines running the troubled software how to avoid lost votes. To fix the problem, poll workers have to check the vote-counting servers to see if all memory cards are shown as uploaded. Although the company has submitted “fixed” software for federal certification, the new and improved version will not be certified before the November election.
This November, votes cast on Premier’s machines will be counted accurately only if poll workers execute the fix correctly. This seems like a dangerous gamble as poll workers likely do not have technical backgrounds. So the puzzling question remains–why is it so hard to ensure that e-voting machines count our votes accurately? Something is clearly amiss with the testing authorities working in connection with the Election Assistance Commission–they failed identify the logic error. Yet a variety of agencies, such as the NSA and FAA, oversee mission-critical systems that do not fail (at least not often). For instance, airplanes employ software and planes do not fall out of the sky. Perhaps, as Bruce Schneier suggests, voting machines need to undergo the same assurance practices as airplanes do in order to ensure that our votes are counted accurately.