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> Glitches in election-reporting system raise some eyebrows
> By Todd J. Gillman
> Published 04-01-2000
> Column: POLITICS
> In its maiden run almost two years ago, Dallas County's new $3.8 million
> computerized election system overlooked 41,000 votes, one of every eight
> cast. A software error made it think the votes had already been counted.
> Thirty elections later, in the March 14 primaries, the county released
> "final" totals that left out 11,000 votes.
> No races were affected, and local party officials weren't even aware of
> error, which was made and corrected overnight.
> But state election officials, who didn't receive correct tallies from
> until 17 hours after polls closed, are reviewing the system' s
> certification.
> "We are concerned that it failed to operate properly in Dallas, " said Ann
> McGeehan , the state's director of elections. "This election- reporting
> system is very clunky. I think it was designed for smaller counties."
> Michael Limas , chief operating officer at Election Systems & Software of
> Omaha, Neb., which sold the county the system, blamed an honest mistake by
> the company's onsite computer operator. He said the company would "refine"
> its procedures to avert future problems and upgrade some county equipment
> no taxpayer expense.
> "The omission was caught and corrected immediately," he said. "
> Realistically, within the context of election night reporting, this was in
> many ways a nonevent."
> Local party officials said the glitch helped explain why a fax awaiting
> the morning after the election was labeled "corrected final return."
> "It just confirms what I already thought, which is that this whole system
> a piece of garbage," said Dallas County Democratic Chairman Bill Howell .
> "Voters are not getting results they can be confident in."
> Dallas Democrats have been skeptical about the election system since its
> debut, because of the 41,000-vote undercount in November 1998. In that
> the computer was not reset after a dry run a few days earlier, and it
> rejected votes from a county commissioners district, determining -
> incorrectly - that they'd already been counted. The recount cut incumbent
> Republican Kenneth Mayfield 's victory margin from 1,800 votes to 467.
> Even if the final tallies from last month's primary are accurate, Mr.
> said, the process doesn't inspire confidence. "This might as well be a
> rigged election like in the Philippines under Marcos, " he said.
> One race that could have been affected was the Democratic U.S. Senate
> contest.
> Retired lawyer Gene Kelly easily took first place. But the second spot for
> the April 11 runoff was uncertain long after polls closed. As of 6 a.m.,
> secretary of state's office showed former state Rep. Charles Gandy of
> ahead of computer systems analyst Don Clark by 142 votes.
> The updated Dallas tallies, received at noon, added 2,891 votes to the
> five-way Democratic field and pushed Mr. Gandy's lead to 520. (After a
> handful of recounts and updates from other counties, the spread stood at
> 1,372 this week, after the official Democratic canvass.)
> Here's how the Dallas system works and what went wrong March 14:
> Optical scanning machines at each precinct record votes as they come in.
> When polls close, election judges transmit results to Dallas County
> elections administrator Bruce Sherbet 's office using modem cards.
> A computer called a communications server collects the data. An operator
> shifts the results to another computer that generates reports - a step
> to buffer the system from outside tampering.
> But in the early hours of March 15, the operator forgot to check four of
> electronic "in baskets."
> The county posted a "final" report on its Web site around 3 a.m. and sent
> the same results to the state, which logged it received at 4:11 a.m.
> Within an hour, the computer operator and county workers - following a
> standard verification process - caught the error as they compared tallies
> from the computer to those generated manually.
> Few people ever saw the erroneous numbers. Only corrected versions were
> issued to local party officials and reporters about 7 a.m.
> For reasons that remain unclear, Mr. Sherbet's office didn't reach the
> secretary of state's office with corrected numbers until noon.
> "We certainly are concerned" about the glitch, Mr. Sherbet said. Even so,
> has no second thoughts about buying the system, which is used in two dozen
> Texas counties.
> "All of the different systems have vulnerabilities," he said.
> Staff writer Todd J. Gillman covers politics for The News. His column
> appears Saturdays.
> ) 2000 The Dallas Morning News All Rights Reserved
> Todd J. Gillman, Glitches in election-reporting system raise some
> 04-01-2000, pp 30A.
> )1998 The Dallas Morning News