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E-voting machine freezes, misreads votes, U.S. agency says

DS200 optical scanner from ES&S doesn't meet federal standards, but remains certified, Election Assistance Commission says

January 6, 2012 06:18 AM ET

Computerworld - An electronic ballot scanning device slated for use in the upcoming presidential elections, misreads ballots, fails to log critical events and is prone to freezes and sudden lockups, the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission has found.

The little noticed EAC report on the DS200 Precinct Count Optical Scanner in the Unity voting system built by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) was released late last month.

The 141-page Formal Investigative Report (download pdf) highlights multiple "substantial anomalies" in the DS200, including intermittent screen freezes, system lockups and shutdowns, and failure to log all normal and abnormal system events.

For example, the DS200 in some cases failed to log events such as a vote being cast, when its touch-screen is calibrated or when the system is powered on or off, the EAC said.

In addition, the EAC report said the system failed to read votes correctly when a 17-inch ballot was inserted at an angle. The voter's intended mark was either registered as a different selection or the vote was not registered at all, the EAC noted.

The tests also showed one DS200 system accepting a filled-in ballot without incrementing the public counter or without counting any of the marks. In that instance, the EAC found two ballots in the DS200 ballot bin, but only one was counted.

Though the EAC concluded that the problems found prevent the DS200 from meeting federal e-voting system standards, it stopped short of decertifying the system altogether.

The Elections Assistance Commission is responsible for for inspecting and certifying all electronic voting equipment

Had the EAC decertified the ES&S equipment, jurisdictions that had planned on using it in upcoming elections would have to quickly find alternative certified technology.

Instead, the EAC issued a Notice of Non-Compliance for the Unity system which allows ES&S to remediate the problems. The commission will also conduct a site visit to audit the Omaha-based company's development, testing and quality assurance practices.

The DS200 system is a paper-based vote tabulation system that contains an internal printer. Voters complete paper ballots and insert them into the DS200 scanner, which records and tallies the results, and prints them out after the polls are closed.

The ES&S system is no stranger to controversy.

In January 2010, the Florida Fair Elections Coalition (FFEC) released a report on an earlier DS200 implementation. The report called for Florida election officials to decertify the system due to what it contended were very high over-vote rates.

Estimates vary in terms of how widely the DS200 system is currently deployed.

According to an EAC map, the DS200 is used in a handful of jurisdictions in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. ES&S says that only one jurisdiction in Ohio and a "few" in Wisconsin use the version referenced in the EAC report.

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