Sunday :: Aug 19, 2007

Dan Rather's Touch Screen Voting Machine Expose

by Mary

Last week, Dan Rather hosted an expose on Touch Screen voting machines which covered some new ground and left one with some troubling questions. The program covered two questions:

  1. Why were there so many problems reported with the touch screen voting systems in Florida in 2004?
  2. What caused the problems with the formally extremely reliable punch card systems in 2000 which led to the rapid adoption of the touch screen systems?

One of the more blatant problems for the 2006 election happened in Sarasota, Florida where Democratic candidate Christine Jennings lost the election by 369 votes when there some 18,000 votes that mysteriously did not get cast in the Congressional race. A number of voters came forward to report problems with these machines and specifically complained that their votes did not get registered for particular races.

What Dan Rather's investigation found was the ES&S touch screens that were used in the Florida election were extremely unreliable. And why were they unreliable? Because they were being manufactured under terrible conditions in a plant in Manila. A plant that was never disclosed by ES&S to the US Election Assistance Commission as was required by law.

As Dan Rather's program documents, ES&S commissioned Pivot International to manufacture the touch screens that were used in this precinct's election. Pivot prides itself on using offshore manufacturing to help companies like ES&S manufacture their systems. But when they setup their offshoring in Manila, they picked what appears to be a classic sweatshop. The Philippine news reported that the workers in the plant would be paid $4 per hour, but the workers were actually making $2.15 to $2.50 per day. And despite the problems they experienced with the systems, they were told they must turn out many systems even when the base screens failed.

The screens that the Manila plant used came from Bergquest, a US plant in Minnesota. But with the conditions in the Manila plant, the touch screens experienced 30 to 40 percent failure rates. It seems that they were prone to fail in hot, humid climates. ES&S took these systems and sold them to Sarasota, FL, where they then failed the voters. How many other places did they sell their shoddy equipment?

The next question Rather asked, which I haven't seen asked before: why were there so many problems with the punch cards in the 2000 election? After all, IBM had successfully used punch cards for decades and no one had ever reported problems with hanging chads before. What gives?

Rather and his crew headed up to the Sequoia Voting Systems plant where the punch card ballots had been manufactured for years. What Rather found were former workers in the plant that testified the paper stock that was being used to make the ballots was changed and the paper they were told to use for ballots in 2000 was very problematic. The paper was supposed to come from Boise Cascade, but when Rather's team sent ballots used in the election to Boise Cascade, they reported that they did not manufacture the paper. You can see the report from Boise Cascade here. The report Rather has is damning. Sequoia has a lot of questions to answer. BTW: Here's a press release from Sequoia that disputes this report. They say they will be making available their quality control documentation for the Palm Beach ballots soon.

Why did the company change the paper stock for the 2000 election? Who did manufacture the paper stock if it wasn't Boise Cascade? One employee speculated that it was because touch screen systems weren't being adopted fast enough. Perhaps just like health care, it is time to have an independent, non-profit organization be responsible for our voting machines and supplies, because it's pretty evident that these companies are not to be trusted to work for the public interest when profits are to be made.

One other thing is clear. We voters should not have to be told, "Trust Us" any longer. Elections in our country should be fully transparent and all votes should be counted and re-countable. We need to demand national standards that look out for the voters and not the Republican party.

Mary :: 7:09 PM :: Comments (10) :: Digg It!