UCONN: Failed memory cards caused by weak batteries, inadequate design

This week I attended the 2010 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop on Trustworthy Elections in Washington, D.C., Dr. Alex Shvartsman and his team from the Uconn VoTeR Center delivered a significant paper.  It covered research into the cause of the complete failure of  the AccuVote-OS memory cards, at an unacceptable rate.  <See our earlier coverage>. <The Research Report>

[W]e determined the time interval from the instant when a battery warning is issued by the AccuVote to the point when the battery does not have enough voltage to retain data on the memory card.We show that such interval is about 2 weeks. Thus timely warnings cannot be provided to protect against battery discharge and loss of data during the election process…

Recommendations

we determined the time interval from the instant when a battery warning is issued by the AccuVote to the point when the battery does not have enough voltage to retain data on the memory card. We show that such interval is about 2 weeks. Thus timely warnings cannot be provided to protect against battery discharge and loss of data during the election process…

The lifetime of the Energizer battery, when its voltage remains above the 2V needed for data retention in standby mode, at that current load, according to its datasheet [9] is 9,000 hours or approximately one year.

Given that it is possible that a memory card is used for elections once a year, it leads us to the same conclusion: For each election, a decision would be made, whether or not to replace the batteries for this election. The decision would be based on the amount of time since the batteries were last replaced and on the estimate of the service life of the battery (e.g., using the procedure at the end of the previous section).

Discussing the challenge with Dr. Shvartsman at the workshop, it seems that replacing the batteries is more complicated than might be assumed. The battery is under the memory card label, so replacement includes completely removing all remnants of the old label then preparing and placing a new label on the memory card. Shvartsman estimated the replacement cost, including labor, may be on the order of $10 per memory card.

We suggest that $10 per year per card is well worth avoiding most of the problems associated with the current huge, unacceptable failure rate. The total cost would be about $40,000 per year, somewhere in the range of $0.025 per ballot cast. To put this in context, ballot printing is about $0.45 per ballot and election costs average in the range of $5.00 to $8.00 per ballot cast. We also suggest the costs of mitigating the problems should be born by the manufacturer and/or distributor since the ultimate cause is the inadequate design of the memory cards for their intended purpose.

PS:  Dr. Shrvartsman is mentioned prominently in an article posted at Verified Voting: Voting Technology Research Gets In-Depth <read>

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