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Voting machine problems: Reports across county of wrong candidates being selected

3:05 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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Marion, Ohio (The Marion Star) -- Sophie Rogers, director of the Marion County Board of Elections, said the incident involving an errant vote has been settled.

"We have to assure the members of Marion County that there is nothing wrong with the election," she said on Wednesday.

When a Marion Star article pointing out the problem a local early voter had getting her vote to register properly hit the internet, it sparked national attention.

With numerous callers and emailers contacting The Star, including readers from Florida, Oregon, Texas and New York, it is not an isolated incident.

On Oct. 23, WGHP FOX8 in Greensboro, N.C., had several reports that President Barrack Obama's name came up when Gov. Mitt Romney was selected by voters casting their ballot electronically.

One reporter for FOX8 said he received over a dozen calls from four different counties.

KMOV CBS4 in St. Louis reported a similar error on Oct. 25.

Local election officials and the vendor for the machines used in Marion say the machines are accurate and voters can be assured of votes counting correctly.

The machines are provided by Dominion Voting Systems. Spokesman Chris Riggall said incidents such as these are to be expected.

"These are platforms that, in some cases, have been in use for 10 years or longer," he said. "In the course of millions and millions of ballots cast, you'll get a report from a voter that the unit they were using was not accurately recording their choice."

Riggall compared the error to an incorrect input on a touch phone or an airport kiosk.

"Any touch screen device can have instances in which the interface is not accurately aligned with your touch," he said. "When we talk about calibration, that's it."

Sue Schwamberger, deputy director of the local board of elections, tested the machine in question immediately after it was used and said she found no calibration error.

"I purposefully voted both parties and erased them both three times before I voted my ballot," she added.

Even in the instance reported in Tuesday's Star, the voter was able to change her ballot once it was initially input incorrectly.

WGHP in Greensboro also reported voters who had issues accurately changed their votes. Riggall said the voter did the right thing by reporting the incorrect choice to an on-sight official.

There are 45 counties in Ohio that share the same voting machines that Marion County uses. Seven additional counties use direct recording electronic machines as opposed to optical scan devices.

Brent Turner, communications director for Open Voting Consortium, argues that these electronic machines have flaws. The coding, according to Turner, is rather large and kept secret from the public.

"If a bad guy put a bug in there, you'd never be able to see it," Turner said. "The systems we prefer are very minimalist, very clean lines of code that are always available."

Turner also has concerns of an erasing mechanism within the machine and the overall security of the devices.

"I've heard criticisms about every voting format we have," Riggall said. "It's scrutinized much more now than five years ago or 10 years ago. And that's a good thing, because there's a higher demand for excellence."

Local officials said they received calls criticizing their operation. But the issue was quickly fixed, and Rogers said there was no error with the machine.

"I think we're in a supercharged atmosphere," said Tim Combs, a Democratic representative and president of the Marion County board. "We're in a state of national attention, and there are people that think there are conspiracies."

The voting machines provided by Dominion Voting Systems, according to Riggall, undergo at least three different levels of testing in Ohio. Machines are tested at the federal and state levels with a third test prior to elections.

The third test, known as the "logic and accuracy test" is "a test to make sure the system is operating properly," Riggall said. "In a touch screen environment, you'd be confirming it properly credits the candidates."

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