E-voting machine swaps Obama vote for Romney; taken offline

Pennsylvania officials acknowledge the error; say calibration error fixed and DRE machine is back on duty

An electronic voting machine was temporarily taken out of service in Perry County, Pa., after a voter filmed it changing his vote for President Obama into one for Gov. Mitt Romney.

The voter, using the handle "centralpavoter," posted a video on YouTube earlier today purporting to show his attempts to cast a vote for Obama on what appears to be a touchscreen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine. Despite repeatedly clicking on Obama's name, the machine keeps highlighting Romney's name on the machine, the video showed.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele, confirmed the incident to Computerworld and said that the machine was immediately removed from service, recalibrated and quickly put back into service.

Ruman said it appeared that calibration issues in the machine caused it to highlight the wrong selection. The system worked as designed after it was recalibrated, he said.

No other voters complained about the machine, Ruman said.

Ruman said that the affected individual eventually voted on another machine without incident.

In a comment posted on Reddit, centralpavoter, who identified himself as a software developer, explained the incident in detail.

He said he tried troubleshooting the problem when he initially selected Obama's name on the machine and Romney's name was highlighted.

"I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney," he wrote. "I first thought the calibration was off and tried selecting [Green Party candidate] Jill Stein to actually highlight Obama. Nope. Jill Stein was selected just fine," he said.

The voter said that an on-the-spot investigation found that "from the top of Romney's button down to the bottom of the black checkbox beside Obama's name was all active for Romney." All other buttons worked fine, he wrote.

Centralpavoter said he decided to record his attempts using a smartphone and then posted the video publicly to highlight the problem after a voting official on site appeared not to be too concerned about the issue.

Perry is a relatively small, mostly rural county northwest of Harrisburg.

Records maintained by election watchdog group Verified Voting show that Perry County uses DRE systems made by iVotronic. The systems are identified as being DRE systems that do not support a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

Verified Voting and several other groups have long expressed considerable concern over the use of paperless DRE systems because votes cast on such machines are virtually impossible to audit. The lack of a paper trail rules out the use of manual audits, the groups have maintained.

Pennsylvania is one among 17 states that are using at least some paperless DRE systems to varying degrees in today's elections. Six of the states -- New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana -- have no paper trail.

A votee in western Pennsylvania posted this video of how the touch-screen machine he was using changed his vote from one for President Obama to Mitt Romney. The machine has since been taken out of service.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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