Nov 09 Election Audit Reports – Part 1 – Problems Continue and Some Good News

Late last week the University of Connecticut (UConn) VoTeR Center posted three reports from the November election on its web site <Pre-Election Memory Card Tests>, <Post-Election Memory Card Tests>, and <Post-Election Audit Report>.  In Part 1 we will discuss the memory card tests and in Part 2 the Post-Election Audit Report.

As we said last year:  We should all applaud the unique memory card testing program, yet we must also act aggressively to close the gaps it continues to expose.

We note the following from this year’s reports:

  • An increase in the percentage of memory cards in the pre-election test.

[pre-election 2009]  The VoTeR Center received in total 491 memory cards from 481 districts before the elections. This document reports on the findings obtained during the audit. The 491 cards represent over 80.6% of all districts, thus the audit is broad enough to draw meaningful conclusions.

[pre-election 2008] the VoTeR Center received and examined 620 memory cards [about 74% of districts] as of November 3, 2008. These cards correspond to 620 distinct districts in Connecticut. About 2/3 of these memory cards were randomly chosen by the VoTeR Center personnel during the visits to LHS and before the cards were packed and shipped to the towns. Another 1/3 of the memory cards came from the towns directly, where the cards were randomly chosen for preelection audit (this procedure applied to the town for which the cards were not selected at LHS).

  • And a significant drop in the percentage of memory cards in the post-election test:

[post-election 2009] The VoTeR Center received in total 120 memory cards from 49 districts [approximately 8.0% of all districts] after the elections. The cards were received during the period from December 12, 2009 to February 12, 2010. Among the received cards, 49 were used in the elections,

[post-election 2008] The VoTeR Center received in total 462 memory cards from a number of districts after the elections… Among these cards, 279 were used in the elections… The 279 cards represent over 30% of all districts,

As we understand it, the Secretary of the State’s Office asks all towns to send in memory cards for each district, they are not randomly selected.  This means that we cannot be sure the percentages of  “junk” data or procedural lapses reported actually represent a reliable measure of all memory cards and official actions, yet it seems reasonable to conclude that:

  • “Junk” data continues at an unacceptable rate:

[pre-election]The audit identified forty two (42) cards, or 9%, that contained “junk” data; these cards are unreadable by the tabulators, and easily detected as such. This is a high percentage of faulty/unusable cards. We note that this is consistent with the percentage reported for the pre-election audit of November 2008 elections. The percentage is lower than detected in the post-election audit for the August 2008 primary (15%), but higher than detected in the pre-election audit for the August 2008 primary (5%), post-election audit for the February 2008

[post-election] Concerning the remaining cards, 14 (12% of the total number of cards) were found to contain junk data, that is, they were unreadable, which is easily detected by the tabulators; had a card contained junk data at the time of the election,

So the problem of “junk” data continues at a likely rate toward the middle of past testing results.  As we have said before 5%, 9%, 15%, even 1% is a huge failure rate for relatively simple technology such as memory cards.

  • Very good news on the “Junk” data cards:

We have determined that weak batteries are the primary cause of junk data on cards; a separate report will document this in more detail. It is recommended that batteries are replaced before each election.

It seems that UConn has identified a likely cause of the “junk” data cards.  Perhaps a solution is near.  We look forward to reading that separate report.

  • Officials continue to fail to follow procedures at a significant rate

[pre-election] The audit identified twenty-three (23) cards where the audit log indicates card duplication events. Card duplication is not authorized per SOTS Office instructions. Otherwise the cards were properly programmed for elections…There are 76 cards (15%) that were properly programmed, but were found in unexpected states or contained unexpected timing of events. This does not necessarily present an immediate security concern, however the findings indicate that the established procedures are not strictly followed in some cases.

[post-election]
14 contained junk data
2 were not programmed (formatted, but blank)
3 were involved in duplication
4 were non-standard cards (32KB instead of 128KB) [LHS not election official error]
4 were programmed for different elections

The main concern with such failures to follow procedures is that they are symptomatic that other procedures are frequently not being followed, yet each failure represents a possible lapse in security and election integrity.

Comments from our post on last year’s report still apply:

  • A non-random partial post-election audit of memory cards is useful, but it is insufficient
  • How many more tests, reports, and elections will it take before the junk data problem is significantly reduced? [Thanks to UConn, based on the 2009 report, we may have an answer soon]
  • Almost every failure to follow procedures is an opportunity to cause problems, cover up errors, or cover up fraud. [including not sending in cards for testing]. We can only hope that the Registrars of Voters will join in the commitment to meet a much higher standard.

For more details behind these comments please read our post on last year’s report.

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