Can You Count On These Machines?
By Clive Thompson
The New York Times
Sunday 06 January 2008
"Cover Graphic Shows Exploding Voting Booth with 'WARNING' Label: 'Your vote may be lost, destroyed, miscounted, wrongly attributed or hacked'" - Image from bradblog.com
Jane Platten gestured, bleary-eyed, into the secure room filled with voting machines. It was 3 a.m. on Nov. 7, and she had been working for 22 hours straight. "I guess we've seen how technology can affect an election," she said. The electronic voting machines in Cleveland were causing trouble again.
For a while, it had looked as if things would go smoothly for the Board of Elections office in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. About 200,000 voters had trooped out on the first Tuesday in November for the lightly attended local elections, tapping their choices onto the county's 5,729 touch-screen voting machines. The elections staff had collected electronic copies of the votes on memory cards and taken them to the main office, where dozens of workers inside a secure, glass-encased room fed them into the "GEMS server," a gleaming silver Dell desktop computer that tallies the votes.
Then at 10 p.m., the server suddenly froze up and stopped counting votes. Cuyahoga County technicians clustered around the computer, debating what to do. A young, business-suited employee from Diebold - the company that makes the voting machines used in Cuyahoga - peered into the screen and pecked at the keyboard. No one could figure out what was wrong. So, like anyone faced with a misbehaving computer, they simply turned it off and on again. Voilà: It started working - until an hour later, when it crashed a second time. Again, they rebooted. By the wee hours, the server mystery still hadn't been solved.