Ohio official sues e-voting vendor for dropped votes

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has filed a lawsuit against an electronic-voting machine vendor, saying the vendor should pay damages for dropped votes in the state's March primary election.

E-voting machines from Premier Election Solutions, 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, Brunner's office said. Officials in Brunner's office later discovered the dropped votes in other counties after voting officials in Butler County discovered about 150 dropped votes, said Jeff Ortega, Brunner's assistant director of communications.

The votes were recovered and included in the final counts but could have easily been overlooked, Ortega said.

Premier spokesman Chris Riggall declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but defended the company's products. "We certainly feel strongly that we, in fact, have fulfilled the contract with the state of Ohio," he said. "It's a high-quality voting system that continues to operate in many, many Ohio counties with great success."

Brunner's lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Ohio on Wednesday, is a counter claim to an earlier lawsuit filed by Premier. In May, Premier filed a lawsuit against Brunner's office and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, seeking a judgment that Premier did not violate any contracts or warranties.

Brunner's lawsuit accuses Premier of not fulfilling its contracts with election officials. The lawsuit also alleges breach of warranty and fraud.

Premier e-voting machines are used in half of Ohio's 88 counties.

Butler County officials discovered the dropped votes in post-election checks. That set off a statewide investigation, which found dropped votes in 11 other counties, according to information from Brunner's office. Butler County officials sent letters to Premier on April 4 and 9, seeking an explanation for the dropped votes, and on May 16, Premier issued a report, suggesting human error or conflicts with antivirus software were to blame.

Brunner and Butler County officials have suggested that May report and a follow-up issued by Premier lacked evidence that antivirus software caused the problems. A Premier report issued on May 29 suggested counties disable antivirus software on vote-tabulation servers, but the servers were certified in Ohio with the antivirus software installed, Brunner said.

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 machines.

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

"Ohio's voting system, like that of any state or jurisdiction, is comprised of a combination of equipment, procedures, rules, laws, regulations and people," Premier said. "The [Ohio] study unfortunately fails to consider the procedures associated with the entire election process, procedures that are integral to voting system security."


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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