Thursday, March 23, 2006

Don't ignore HART InterCivic problems

Apparently, a RFP evaluation committee member today made a verbal assertion that the recent elections problems in Texas have been found "not" to be the vendor's fault.

I have researched this, and been unable to find any written documentation or news references to support this assertion.

Instead, I have found:

NO statement or news on the Hart Intercivic website "News" section regarding any recent elections in Texas as of today (there is a gap of no news between 2/7/2006 and 3/22/2006) ...

nor on the company homepage, nor on the company press release page, though, interestingly, this statement, referenced in a newspaper article, can be found in the Google cache, but no longer appears on the Hart website:

Has the company retracted this statement (dated 3/14/2006)? Is there a new statement from the company to replace this? According to this Google cache document, Hart president Britt Kauffman said that the problems were "procedural" and not related to "programming, software or computer errors", does the company still stand by this statement, and if so, why does this statement no longer appear on the company's website?

There are seven (7) recent stories on the Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper website, NONE of which suggest that the vendor has been absolved of any responsibility.

The most recent story (from today, Wednesday 3/22/2006) in the list indicates that NEW problems may have been found with Hart Intercivic equipment in a different county, from the local newspaper by way of the Dallas For Worth Start Telegram:

"The problem in the recount appears to be with new, federally mandated electronic voting machines, provided by vendor Hart InterCivic. During a hand recount, the machines are designed to print out paper ballots for each voter's choices, but McKerley said the machines that were used to register early votes printed out only 75 percent to 80 percent of the votes believed to have been cast."
(Incidentally, I would very much like to see the "paper ballot" printout capability, I was under the impression that the Hart equipment only printed out an "audit receipt". If the device printed a full paper ballot instead of storing votes in memory, it may be redeemable still).

The original story from yesterday, 3/21/06, is still posted.

There is one story indicating that in Tarrant County, TX, the challengers did not file recount requests, however, that story also says very clearly:

"Hart InterCivic, the company that made the equipment and wrote the software, took responsibility for the error the day after the election, and company officials said they would work with local elections officials to minimize future problems. Company officials have said that a procedural error led to inflated counts when merging totals from early voting, absentee mail voting and election-day voting into one report on election night."
The story also quotes a local candidate who chose not to file a recount as saying she chose not to spend the money in part because:

"we don't have any way of knowing whether the current numbers are accurate."
Given our previous experiences with verbal assertions made by the County Clerk, her supporters, and the vendor that turned out to be incorrect (need I remind anyone of the discrepancy between the "8 hours" we were quoted before the system was purchased, and the "24 hours" we were quoted afterwards?), I urge the committee to only accept those statements that can be documented in writing. Please feel free to include any of the references I have provided in your final report. Although the original confidentiality agreement you were asked to sign did not make it clear, is should be self-evidently obvious that you are free to discuss anything that has been made publicly available in a news report with anyone you choose.

If there is a new statement from the vendor, or other documented (not verbal) information available, I'm sure many of us would like to see it.

Has this committee actually tested this functionality itself or simply relied on assertions by the vendor or other parties?

If the committee is unable to resolve these legitimate questions as to the reliability and accuracy of this equipment, I cannot understand how it could possibly recommend that it be used in elections here. These public reports and our county's first-hand experience do not inspire confidence in voters, regardless of political affiliation.

According to Brad Friedman of the BradBlog website, the Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram has contacted him to begin investigating the whistleblower's claims.

I hope that this committee will not simply rubber-stamp the County Clerk's continued failure to do thorough due diligence on our elections systems and instead represent the repeatedly stated consensus of Boulder County voters: support trustworthy elections based on paper ballots and reject any proposed use of DRE computer vote-storing equipment here. For a thorough read of Boulder County voter's positions on this issue, ask the Clerk and Commissioners to share with you the 200+ comments she received in response to the DRE Purchase RFP.

Make sure you get it in writing on paper!

Joe Pezzillo
Boulder, Colorado