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Report blames Denver election woes on flawed software

Local election officials were also slammed for a 'casual approach' to technology

By Todd R. Weiss
December 13, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Poor software design, serious IT management inefficiencies and an untested deployment of a critical application were all major factors in last month's Election Day problems in Denver, according to a scathing report from an IT consultant. The problems led to hours-long delays for voters looking to cast ballots and raised questions about the overall efficacy of e-voting.

The 32-page report, released Monday, concluded that the main reason for problems was the electronic poll book (ePollBook) software used by the independent Denver Election Commission (DEC) to oversee voting. The e-poll book software -- an $85,000 custom application created by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. -- included the names, addresses and other information for all registered voters in Denver.

Sequoia was already a voting services vendor to the city and county, and the application was designed to allow poll workers across the Denver area to check off voters as they came in to vote at newly created voting centers. Denver has moved from the old precinct-style polling places to a new "voting center" model where voters can go to any polling place in the area to cast ballots, regardless of where they live. The software was supposed to make it easy for officials at any voting center to check online and make sure a voter had not already voted somewhere else in Denver.

eVoting 2006
Instead, it led to massive problems on Election Day due to "decidedly subprofessional architecture and construction," according to the report from consultants Fred Hessler and Matt Smith at Fujitsu Consulting in Greenwood Village, Colo. Fujitsu was hired by Denver shortly after the election to find out what went wrong and help to fix the problems.

"The ePollBook is a poorly designed and fundamentally flawed application that demonstrates little familiarity with basic tenets of Web development," the report stated. "Due to unnecessary and progressive consumption of system resources, the application's performance will gradually degrade in a limited-use environment and will be immediately and noticeably hampered with a high number of concurrent users."

In other words, the more heavily it was used, the slower it worked.

"Moreover, it appears that this application was never stress-tested by the DEC or Sequoia," other than using it in the spring primary as a test election, the report said. "It is at best naive to deploy enterprise software in an untested state. It is remarkably poor practice to deliberately choose a critical production event (the primary election) to serve as a test cycle."

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