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More e-voting tests slated in contested Fla. voting district

Officials are still probing an 18,000-vote undercount in a 2006 race

By Todd R. Weiss
October 4, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A U.S. House of Representatives task force has voted to authorize additional testing of e-voting hardware in Florida's 13th Congressional District to try to determine whether problems with the machines could have contributed to an 18,000-vote undercount in the 2006 U.S. House race.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Committee on House Administration's Election Task Force adopted three additional testing scenarios for the e-voting machines, which were proposed in a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The task force had asked the GAO to look at the e-voting hardware in the contested election and report back with its recommendations.

In its 27-page report (download PDF)," the GAO said that previous testing of some of the e-voting machines did not include a large enough sample to provide accurate results.

The 18,000 undervotes -- or votes that were not cast at all in the Congressional race by voters who turned out for the overall election -- occurred in Sarasota County, Fla. The losing candidate in the race, Democrat Christine Jennings, and other e-voting critics, argued that the undercount was too large to have occurred naturally and blamed problems with the e-voting machines. The 1,499 e-voting machines used in the election were direct-recording iVotronic systems made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) of Omaha.

Jennings lost the election by 369 votes out of 238,249 votes counted. Republican Vern Buchanan was certified as the winner in the race.

"We found that some of the prior tests and reviews provide assurance that the voting systems in Sarasota County functioned correctly, but they are not enough to provide reasonable assurance that the iVotronic DRE voting systems did not contribute to the undervote," the GAO report said.

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, (D-Texas), chairman of the task force, said in a statement that "the results of the GAO's testing will play an essential role in determining whether the machines did or did not contribute to the undervote in the contested election. The testing and its results are crucial; in their absence, we cannot answer this question with the confidence and assurance that is necessary."

The task force voted to pursue the three key tests proposed by the GAO report:

  • Firmware testing to verify that the firmware in the iVotronic machines used in Sarasota County matched the certified version of the firmware approved by election officials.
  • Ballot testing of the iVotronic machines using more than 112 scenarios, including casting votes, changing votes, changing votes again and other combinations, to confirm correct operation of the units.
  • Miscalibrating the iVotronic units to see if that has any effect on the undervote counts.

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