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"A Handful of Glitches" PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
June 08, 2006
That’s how State election officials in Iowa described this Tuesday’s primaries. But Charles Krogmaier of the Secretary of State’s office was quick to reassure us that  “we think at this point they are all human errors, not machine errors." Equally reassuring was Krogmaier’s comment, “We don't think any votes were lost.”

Well I suppose humans were responsible for the ballot programming errors on ES&S optical scanners in Pottawattamie County that nearly resulted in electing the wrong candidates. But then an election in which the loser wins would be just another one of those pesky “glitches”.

It is only thanks to County auditor Marilyn Jo Drake, who called for a hand count of the ballots cast in Tuesday’s election that the will of the voters was expressed. Early returns in the County Recorder’s race seemed so anomalous that Drake decided not to trust the machines and recount the ballots manually. Unlike too many election officials, Drake was more concerned about the accuracy of the election results than in defending flawed voting technology.

It seems that the vendor that programmed the optical scanners (ES&S) had failed to account for the use of “rotating ballots”, in which the order of the candidates’ names varied from precinct to precinct. The initial indications suggested there would be an upset victory for college student Oscar Duran, who was relatively unknown and had done little campaigning, over long-time incumbent Recorder John Sciortino. The error effected all the contests on the ballot.

County Supervisor Lynn Leaders asked Drake on Wednesday if Pottawattamie County was the only county in Iowa to experience such problems in Tuesday's statewide primary, Drake said, "I don't know, but I would assume yes." But then there is no reason to make that assumption. Had the race been competitive with more than one viable candidate, the results would have been plausible, and there would have been no audit. In fact, there’s no way to know if ballot-programming errors resulted in incorrect elections in other counties across the state and county.

Credit must be given for Pottawattamie County’s decision to use a verifiable voting system. Had they chosen instead to use paperless DREs, there would have been no way to reconstruct the will of the voters.

According to a report in the Council Bluffs Daily Non Periel:
Drake was able to see the errors from paper ballots that voters still use. Some counties now exclusively use touch screen machines that don't utilize paper ballots. Pottawattamie County, however, is not one of those, according to Deputy Auditor Gary Herman. The county does have some machines for the visually impaired that can be touched with markers, but they have paper ballot verifications.

Herman doesn't like the touch screen machines with no paper ballots.

"I love paper trails," Herman said.

While some like the touch screen models, Herman said, "If you program them wrong, it would do the same thing (as Tuesday's counting errors)."
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