Thursday, April 14, 2005

PA SOS Says "Voting Machines Not Capable of Absolute Accuracy" - Kicks Them Out

..... or the difference between the number of votes counted in a race and total ballots cast, was 5.25 percent in Beaver County, 4.5 percent in Greene County and 7.29 percent in Mercer County.

NCVV: That's nothing. Come to Pike and Crittenden County, AR in which we sported a 17.5 and 11.5% difference respectively between the number of votes counted and ballots cast on ES$S machines. We had among the worst vote discrepancies in the entire nation. Source: Scripps Howard News Survey Pennsylvania Sec. of State Pedro Cortes has acted with integrity on this issue, acted responsibly and has done the right thing by the people by kicking out those unreliable machines-so now you know it's doable. Absolute accuracy. Those words are a voters dream. Do you think Cortes would consider moving South?


County voting system invalid

By: J.D. Prose - Times Staff

BEAVER - The Pennsylvania Department of State said Thursday that Beaver County's $1.2 million electronic touch-screen voting system is unreliable and can no longer be used, even in the primary election that is only five weeks away.


"Needless to say, we're all shocked by this finding, and we need to work our way through," Commissioners Chairman Dan Donatella said. County elections chief Dorene Mandity declined to comment, saying she had not yet read the state's report.

In decertifying the UniLect Patriot system, Secretary of State Pedro Cortes cited concerns he had after a re-examination of it on Feb. 15 by Carnegie Mellon University computer professor Michael Shamos that was prompted in part by a petition filed by Beaver County residents.

Cortes said in a five-page report that the Patriot system does not meet the state's criteria of being "safely and efficiently useable" in elections, or "capable of absolute accuracy." Cortes said the system is also confusing and difficult to learn, "displaying messages whose import is misleading or unclear."

Cortes' decision means that Beaver County, as well as Mercer and Greene counties, cannot use the Patriot system in the May 17 primary. These are the only three counties in the state that use the Patriot system.

Beaver County has used the touch-screen system since November 1998.

Department of State spokesman Brian McDonald said the affected counties can choose another voting system that meets the state's criteria, such as paper ballots or punch cards.

"Certainly, we'll work as best we can with them to iron out any problems or details," he said.

Those comments did little to mollify a furious Donatella, who said it would be impossible for the county to implement a new voting system so close to the primary.

"There is no way we could put in a paper ballot by the 17th (of May)," he said. "You don't do this weeks before an election."

After speaking with Mercer and Greene county officials, Donatella said the three could sue the state or seek a court order allowing them to use the Patriot system next month.

As for the cost, Donatella said the state certified the Patriot system before the county bought it, so the state should pay for its replacement now that it has decided the system is inadequate.

"We're not going to pay for the commonwealth's mistakes," Donatella said. "We expect the state to pay in full."

This morning, Cortes was expected to conduct a telephone conference call with Beaver, Mercer and Greene officials, Donatella said.

McDonald said the state had yet to decide whether it would give the counties any money to replace the banned system. McDonald also said that Cortes' decision would not affect the results of the November general election because the Patriot system was certified at that time.

During the re-examination done in Harrisburg, Cortes said the Patriot system "failed to sense touches on multiple occasions." It also froze one time and stopped accepting any touches, he said.

"Because the screen does not reliably detect the voters' finger touches, the system will fail to register their votes," Cortes wrote.

Cortes said the problem could have led to the high undervote that Beaver, Mercer and Greene counties experienced in the 2004 general election.

According to a Grove City College study of 24 counties included in Cortes' report, the undervote for president, or the difference between the number of votes counted in a race and total ballots cast, was 5.25 percent in Beaver County, 4.5 percent in Greene County and 7.29 percent in Mercer County.

Electronic-voting critics contend that the large number of undervotes proves that votes were not being correctly tabulated. In Beaver County, according to a Times review in January, there were 4,551 fewer votes counted for president than total ballots cast.

Only two of the other counties studied had presidential undervotes exceeding 2 percent, according to the Grove City College report. The average undervote was 1.49 percent.

Mandity said in January that the undervote was probably caused by people being confused with the system or simply not voting in the presidential race.

Mercer County had widespread problems, and its election chief resigned after the November election.

Cortes said Shamos' re-examination found that the Patriot system's security was lacking. "An intruder could conduct malicious activities on the personal computer at the central location (usually kept at the county election office) and then erase any evidence that such activity had taken place," Cortes wrote.

The Patriot system also has an optional code that would allow the machines to skip the required step of printing a tape when polls open verifying that the tabulating elements for each race have been set at zero.

CMU's Shamos, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, also found that "if a voter would attempt to deselect or change a straight party choice, such action could cause the entire ballot to be changed," Cortes wrote.

The state was required to conduct a re-examination because 19 Beaver County residents filed a petition and paid the required $450 fee. State officials were also concerned about the problems in Mercer County.

New Sewickley Township resident Sheila Green led the petition drive. Starting last year, Green began telling county officials that the system was untrustworthy and susceptible to fraud.

Green's legal challenge to the Patriot system was rejected by Beaver County Judge John McBride in October, but she pressed her concerns with the state and forced the re-examination. Green could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Jack Gerbel, president of UniLect Corp., based in California, said company officials were reviewing Cortes' decision but condemned it as "totally wrong ... absolutely wrong from start to finish."

Gerbel attended the re-examination in February and insisted everything went fine. "We'll have to do something," he said, "because (Cortes decision) is nuts."

J.D. Prose can be reached online at

©Beaver County Times Allegheny Times 2005


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