E-voting vendor: Programming errors caused dropped votes

Premier Election Solutions says problem was logic error in GEMS code

A major electronic voting system vendor has changed its story in an attempt to explain how its machines dropped hundreds of votes in Ohio's March primary elections, saying it was a programming error, not the fault of antivirus software.

E-voting machines from Premier Election Solutions Inc., formerly called Diebold Election Systems, dropped hundreds of votes in 11 Ohio counties during the primary election, as the machine's memory cards uploaded to vote-counting servers. Premier originally blamed conflicts caused by antivirus software from McAfee Inc., but the company this week said a logic error in the machines' GEMS source code was responsible for the problem.

"We now have reason to believe that the logic error in the GEMS code can cause this event when no such antivirus program is installed on the server," Premier President Dave Byrd wrote in a Tuesday letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. "We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error."

Numerous tests by voting authorities had failed to identify the logic error before Ohio discovered the dropped votes, Byrd wrote.

The antivirus software could trigger the error, but it wasn't the underlying problem, said Premier spokesman Chris Riggall. Premier's earlier analysis "was not complete," he said.

Premier also released a product advisory notice on Tuesday, telling users of its e-voting machines running some versions of the GEMS software how to avoid lost votes. Poll workers need to check the vote-counting servers to see if all memory cards are shown as uploaded, the company said in the advisory.

Premier has also developed a fix for the logic error and is now testing it, Riggall said. The company has submitted a version of the GEMS software for federal certification, and Premier will submit the bug fix as part of that process. But the fixed version of the software won't be certified by federal elections officials before November's election, he said.

Tests by Brunner's office and Butler County voting officials had dismissed Premier's earlier claim that antivirus software was the cause of the problem. Officials in Brunner's office discovered the dropped votes in other counties after voting officials in Butler County found about 150 dropped votes. The votes were eventually counted in the March primaries, according to Brunner's office.

"It is the dedication of board officials such as those at the Butler County Board of Elections, who went above and beyond the call of duty, that gives me confidence that preparation with our local partners will lead to a successful November election," Brunner said in a statement.

Brunner's office is working with Ohio counties to identify and guard against the problem in the November general elections, her office said in a memo. About half of Ohio's 44 counties use Premier e-voting machines.

"Now that what appears to be the root cause for this voting tabulation error has been identified, we will prepare Ohio's counties using the Premier voting system software with instructions for following strict protocols needed to identify and correct this error if it occurs," Brunner said in the statement. "We will continue to monitor the situation and provide boards of elections with the instruction and support they need to ensure an orderly and efficient election and an accurate count of Ohioans' votes."

The Premier letter to Brunner comes after the company and Brunner's office exchanged lawsuits this year.

Brunner filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio earlier this month, as a counterclaim to a May lawsuit filed by Premier seeking a judgment that the vendor did not violate any contracts or warranties in Ohio. Brunner's lawsuit accused Premier of not fulfilling its contracts with election officials. The lawsuit also alleges breach of warranty and fraud.

Those two lawsuits have not been resolved.

In December, Brunner's office issued a report questioning the security of touch-screen e-voting machines like those sold by Premier. Machines from Premier and two other vendors had "critical security failures," the report said.

The report recommended Ohio move away from touch-screen e-voting machines.

Premier, in March, responded to the Ohio report, saying it was incomplete and unbalanced.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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