Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Continuing Saga of Sarasota's Lost Votes

Heavily abridged history: One in seven votes recorded on Sarasota’s ES&S iVotronic systems in the Congressional race were blank. The margin of victory was radically smaller than this. If you attempt to do a statistical projection from the votes that were cast onto the blank votes, then you inevitably end up with a different candidate seated in Congress.

Okay, then. On to the GAO’s report. GAO did three tests:

1. They sampled the machines to make sure the firmware that was inside the machines was the firmware that was supposed to be there. They also “witnessed” the source code being compiled and yielding the same thing as the firmware being used. Nothing surprising was found.
2. They cast a number of test ballots. Everything worked.
3. They deliberately miscalibrated some iVotronic systems in a variety of different ways and cast some more test votes. They found the machines were “difficult to use”, but that the summary screens were accurate with respect to the voter’s selections.

What they didn’t do:

* They didn’t conduct any controlled human subject tests to cast simulated votes. Such a test, while difficult and expensive to perform, would allow us to quantify the extent to which voters are confused by different aspects of the voting system’s user interface.
* They didn’t examine any of the warehoused machines for evidence of miscalibration. They speculate that grossly miscalibrated machines would have been detected in the field and would have been either recalibrated or taken out of service. They suggest that two such machines were, in fact, taken out of service.
* They didn’t go through any of ES&S’s internal change logs or trouble tickets. If ES&S knows more, internally, about what may have caused this problem, they’re not saying and GAO was unable to learn more.
* For the tests that they did conduct, GAO didn’t describe enough about the test setup and execution for us to make a reasonable critique of whether their test setup was done properly.

Meanwhile, you can expect ES&S and others to use the GAO report as some sort of vindication of the iVotronic, in specific, or of paperless DRE voting systems, in general. Don’t buy it.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which counts Vern Buchanan's Sarasota Ford dealership among its largest advertisers, is satisfied. Its K-Y Jellified editorial reads in part:

We believe that the issue of some 18,000 undervotes got the expert study it deserved, and the results are persuasive -- although they do not solve the central mystery: Why, among the five counties in Florida's 13th Congressional District, was Sarasota the only one to record such a high rate of nonvotes?
"Case closed, let's stay on our knees and suck down those SUV ads!"

We're not sure everyone is equally content to consign this anomaly to the dustbin of dim journalism.

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