In Ohio, paper audit records are a mess

Study of Diebold machines used in Cleveland area finds 10% of paper receipts are compromised, 75% don't match electronic votes.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

"Destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised." That describes nearly 10 percent of the paper ballots produced by Diebold machines in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland is located, according to a review of the county's electronic voting system, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports.

Even when the paper receipts were legible in the May 2 primary, more than three-quarters of them listed vote tallies that did not match the electronic record in the touch-screen machines.

"The election system, in its entirety, exhibits shortcomings with extremely serious consequences," says the study by the San Francisco-based Election Science Institute. "Especially in the event of a close election."

The report focuses on problems with the Diebold machines' paper records.

In more than 75 percent of the machines examined, the paper record did not match the votes recorded on the memory chips or the memory cards. In more than a third of the machines, the difference was greater than 25 votes.

The report said that the major problem was human error, resulting from poor training.

"Much of the problems we're finding are easy to resolve," said Steven Hertzberg, project director of Election Science Institute. The firm recommends big improvements in worker training and coming up with better systems for auditing the accuracy of the machines.

"I think there is fairly widespread agreement that the problems experienced in Cuyahoga County were procedural problems," a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State said. "If the Board of Elections properly trains its poll workers and the poll workers follow the instruction, these problems will be taken care of."

The county suffered horrendous problems in their May 2 election. Results were delayed for a week because absentee ballots had to be counted by hand. Optical scanning machines -- also purchased from Diebold -- were unable to read the absentee ballots because the county designed the ballots incorrectly.

Ironically, the lesson election officials are taking from all this is that voters should vote absentee, rather than trusting to the vagaries of electronic machines and polling place workers.

County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora said in the next election the absentee ballots will be correctly designed, and voters can avoid problems at polling places by casting absentee ballots early. "It's better to have a ballot that you have the ability to cross-check to look at the votes tabulated," he said.

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