Verified Voting Blog: Voting machine problems in Mississippi primary highlight national concern

In the August 3 primary in Mississippi voters experienced voting machine problems: candidates’ names and entire contests missing from the voting machine screens and equipment failing to booting up properly. Problems were reported in Hinds County, which uses the Advanced Voting Systems Winvote and in several counties that use the Premier  (Diebold) TSx equipped with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail printer.

Advanced Voting Systems has been out of business for several years after they failed to meet requirements for certification to Federal voting systems standards but their machines are still used in Hinds County and in several jurisdictions in Virginia.  The same type of AVS machine produced still-unexplained anomalies in Fairfax County, Virginia in 2009. The majority of Mississippi counties use the Premier TSx and most are equipped with voter verified paper audit trail printers, though the printers are not required by state law or regulation.

In California, a top to bottom review of voting systems found the TSx to have numerous security vulnerabilities and in 2007 the Secretary of State established conditions of use that severely restrict the machine’s use and required 100% manual audits of the voter-verifiable paper trails. No such routine audit is required in Mississippi. Also in 2007, a team of computer scientists at Princeton demonstrated the ease with which the TSx could be hacked. Many States, including Iowa, Florida, and Virginia, where TSx machines have been used recently or remain in use, have either replaced the TSx or are phasing them out along with other direct-recording electronic voting machines.

Yet the TSx remains in widespread use around the nation, and millions of voters will no doubt cast their ballots on these touch screens in the 2012 primaries.  Where governments have any resources to replace voting equipment in time for the 2012 elections, they should replace their electronic voting machines.  Where these machines are equipped with voter-verifiable paper audit trails, those audit trails (which many voters may not check, and which are subject to printer jams) should be subject to risk-limiting manual audits.  Where machines that lack any paper record are used, citizens, election officials, and lawmakers should be thinking about how to replace them with a transparent, auditable, more cost-effective, and more usable voting system.

As Rice University computer scientist Dan Wallach noted in yesterday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and as Verified Voting’s Resolution on Electronic Voting has stated since 2003, a transparent, cost-effective, auditable, and more usable voting system exists now: paper ballots read by scanners at the precinct.  Adoption of the nation’s most widely used voting system, voter-marked paper ballots, will go a long way to solving and preventing this kind of problem in Mississippi. When the counties involved replace their aging, near-obsolete voting systems, they’ll have an opportunity to make a vast improvement in reliability.

One response to “Voting machine problems in Mississippi primary highlight national concern”

  1. Paul Stokes says:

    Good article, but I think the continued demand that audits be “risk limiting” is unfortunate. That’s because it suggests that risk-limiting audits are the only kind that have any value. Yet risk-limiting audits are not yet ready for prime time. Perhaps they will be some day after pilot programs have been run and further evaluation has been undertaken.

    Meanwhile, more conventional audits based on sound, statistical principles are ready now and could be adopted in the near term.