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E-voting system awards election to wrong candidates in Florida village

Analysts warn that same Dominion Sequoia machines are used in nearly 300 U.S. municipalities

April 3, 2012 05:49 PM ET

Computerworld - An optical scan vote tallying system, now used by some 300 U.S. municipalities, misreported the results of a Palm Beach County, Florida, municipal election last month.

Dominion Voting Inc.'s Sequoia Voting Systems device mistakenly awarded two Wellington Village Council seats to candidates who were found in a post-election audit to have lost their races.

The results were officially changed last weekend after a court-sanctioned public hand count of the votes.

Palm Beach County supervisor of elections Susan Bucher did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the problem.

According to a story in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel , the Sequoia vote counting software was set up in a way that didn't correspond to the Wellington County ballot distributed to voters.

As a result, votes meant for one candidate were credited to a different candidate.

"Election-night totals on Wellington's three races were shifted in a circle -- with village council Seat 4 votes going to the mayor's race, votes for mayor going to council Seat 1, and votes for Seat 1 going to Seat 4," the Sentinel story said.

In a product advisory notice issued last Friday, Dominion warned customers that problems could arise if the contest order on a paper ballot does not match the ballot order programmed into Sequoia machine.

"The contest order on the ballots in the database can become out of sync with the contest order shown on the corresponding paper ballots," the company noted.

If the issue is not identified during pre-election tests, "election results will show the correct number of votes, but assigns them to the wrong candidate" the company said in the advisory.

In a statement posted on the Palm Beach County Election Supervisor's site, Bucher blamed Dominion for not alerting election officials about the potential problem.

"We were not made aware of the software shortcoming," Bucher said.

She cited a statement issued after the election by a Waldeep Singh, vice president of customer relations at Dominion, which blamed the problem on "a mismatch between the software which generates the paper ballots and the central tally system.

"This synchronization difficulty is a shortcoming of the version of software currently being used in Palm Beach County and that shortcoming has been addressed in a subsequent version of the software," the statement said.

In a later letter sent to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Dominion president John Poulos appeared to backpedal from Singh's statement.

Poulos maintained that the company's software had functioned precisely as designed and contended that the precise reason for the mismatch remains unknown.

Blogger Brad Friedman, who maintains a blog chronicling election issues, said the incident should serve as a warning to the 285 jurisdictions around the country using the Sequoia/Dominion system today.

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