New V.I. voting machines may be decertified
Published: August 8, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - In the midst of acceptance testing on 43 optical scan machines to be used in the 2014 General election, Board of Elections members are scrambling to form a contingency plan in the event that the machines, purchased at a cost of $646,480, become decertified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
The Election Assistance Commission issued a 141-page report in December 2011 citing problems with the machines that cause them to jam, shut down and miscount votes.
The boards of Elections in both districts have taken possession of new voting machines of the same model as those cited in the commission's report, but it is unclear how many board members, if any, were aware of the potential problems or the Election Assistance Commission report before purchasing the machines.
The potential decertification could throw a monkey wrench into plans to avoid a repeat of the widespread allegations of fraud that broke out after the November 2012 election and landed the elections system in a number of court battles over the use of uncertified machines and other complaints.
So far, board members have said they have to re-examine the contract with the machines' manufacturer, Election Systems and Software Inc., and come up with a way to comply with a mandate from the 29th Legislature that only EAC-certified machines be used in the territory.
The Elections boards thought they were doing just that when they bought the machines from ES&S earlier this year. The machines will allow for paper ballots to be more efficiently processed and offer an alternative to the territory's 27-year-old electronic voting machines.
Since the Election Assistance Commission issued the report, ES&S has been given a set of corrective recommendations, but it remains to be seen whether the company will comply with them to an extent that would save the machines from being decertified, according to Election Assistance Commission spokesman Bryan Whitener.
The investigative report came after the machines exhibited a 10 percent failure rate in pre-election tests in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 2010. The failure and the skewing of election results in the South Bronx, also linked to the DS 200 machines' defects, were widely reported in news outlets.
The report cites three problems with the machines:
- At random intervals, the DS 200 initiates the shutdown process whereupon it will complete approximately 90 percent of the shutdown process and then freeze. The DS 200 unit will not accept ballots in the frozen state.
- Failure to log all normal and abnormal voting system events.
- Ballots that are improperly aligned, or skewed, reduce accuracy, such as counting unmarked ovals as marked or not accurately reading all valid votes on a ballot.
Whitener said the information contained in the investigative report has been published on the commission's web site since the report came out, along with correspondence between ES&S and the commission. The purpose is to alert jurisdictions that may be relying on the machines to the malfunctions and to the potential decertification, Whitener said.
"We put that information out there so that the states and jurisdictions can use that information accordingly," Whitener said.
ES&S representatives have been testing machines on St. Thomas and St. Croix this week. So far, according to Joint Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells, machines on St. Thomas had performed up to expectations and with no notable malfunctions.
"I have read the report, and, of course, it is a cause for concern, but from what we have seen so far, there is nothing that warrants us being concerned about the anomalies in the machines that we have," Wells said.
Other board members were more troubled by how the lack of due diligence might affect the Elections System.
"It would be heart-breaking to know that we went through all this to get the machines and we can't use them," St. Thomas Board member Lawrence Boschulte said. "I want to say that we are in a hole because moving forward to get new machines at this point would be almost impossible."
He said that the Election Assistance Commission never directly warned the board that the machines were being investigated or in danger of decertification.
Board member Arturo Watlington Jr. said he was aware of some of the reports about the malfunctions in Cuyahoga County but that he had not read the investigative report. ES&S customer service representatives had informed him that the updated technology on the newly purchased system corrected some of the deficiencies cited in the report, he said.
An Aug. 30, 2012, letter from the Election Assistance Commission's director of Testing and Certification Division indicates that the commission already has decertified an older DS 200 software version, 188.8.131.52., which is no longer in use. However, anomalies were found in later, upgraded versions of the software, making decertification still a looming possibility.
Watlington said that the joint board had not formally accepted the machines, an issue it will take up at its next meeting in September. However, with almost all the money for the contract with ES&S encumbered or spent on the machines, backing out would be difficult, he said.
A phone message to St. Croix board member Adelbert Bryan, who Boschulte said was instrumental in procuring the machines, was not returned.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.