December 01, 2007
GOP will use paper ballots in Wharton County

Looks like we've got our first successful rebellion against electronic voting machines in Texas.

On whether computerized electronic voting machines are reliable and secure, the Republican leadership in Wharton County votes "no."

Precinct chairmen in the county southwest of Houston decided this week to return to using paper ballots in the March GOP primary for president, congressional seats and local races. About 3,000 people are expected to vote in the primary.

The move is a rejection of the touch-screen technology that Wharton County rolled out for the statewide election a few weeks ago. In Texas, the Democratic and Republican parties conduct their own primaries in individual counties, and the election process is overseen by the secretary of state.

In the statewide election, businessman Jim Welch tried to vote at a fire station in Boling. Some of his votes on state constitutional amendments changed before his eyes, he said, and when election officials acknowledged the problem and offered to let him start over, he concluded the equipment was unreliable and declined. Welch later complained to county and party officials.

County election administrator Judy Owens confirmed that a voting machine malfunctioned because of a calibration problem with the touch function, but she emphasized that the machine was taken out of service immediately and that Welch was given a chance to vote accurately on another machine.

"Occasionally if someone press, press, presses a particular button, it can cause problems. We had someone go out and fix things," she told the Wharton Journal-Spectator on Election Day.

County commissioners are sticking with the iVotronic electronic voting system, which is used widely in Texas and manufactured by Election Systems & Software of Omaha. The company says extensive testing proves its system is accurate and secure and that the machines need to be calibrated in preparation for every Election Day.

But Welch's complaint alarmed Debra Medina, chairwoman of the Wharton County Republican Party.

After checking with county officials and a nationally recognized electronic voting critic, and reading about ES&S's legal dispute with voting jurisdictions in California about its equipment, she sought a change. The dozen or so precinct chairmen, from among the county's 22 precincts, agreed this week to avoid using the new equipment.

Without an explanation for why a machine lost its correct calibration on Nov. 6, Medina said, there is no guarantee that a more serious disruption won't take place in March.

"I don't want to be on the front page of any newspaper having to say our vote (was) unreliable," she said. "We work very hard to get voters to the polls, and if we can't rely on the vote to be the intent of the people, what are we doing?"

Medina said she is looking into using ballot cards that, like standardized test sheets, are marked with dark circles and then tabulated by equipment called optical scanners. Or the party could revert to using old-fashioned paper voting forms counted by hand.

Count me as a fan of optical scanners, which as I understand it have a very low error rate. I think a better idea than ballot cards is to use an electronic interface like what we have now, and have that spit out a paper ballot for the scanners to count. I'd also be happy with the e-voting machines now if we had paper ballots to act as a backup in the event of a disastrous loss of data or just a controversial situation like the phantom vote problem that the Tarrant County GOP faced in last March's primary, using these same ES&S machines. Going back to hand counts is in my opinion a step way too far. Save that for recounts - let's improve the technology we have now for the regular business.

It's interesting that a county Republican party is the first to make this break. Voting machine concerns have mostly been the province of Democrats. That does not seem to be the case in Wharton, however.

"I kind of like the (iVotronic) machines," said [Wharton County Democratic Party] chairman Roger Benavides. "They had one problem, and they corrected the one problem, that's all it was."

"Even if you change it, you still have to put up with (the iVotronic equipment) in the next election," he said. "You might as well get the people used to using them."

I can already hear the cries of anguish by some of my colleagues today.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 01, 2007 to Show Business for Ugly People

Any fan of optical scanners would also have to be a fan of their awful results, specifically Al Gore's and John Kerry's results.

Here we are again, coming up to a primary and a general election. Who wants a better future? Here is your chance.

from BBV:

The case has earmarks that may indicate election fraud.


What Welch saw was not a screen calibration problem because it registered on the screen correctly. It was not "voter error" because he literally watched the vote re-write itself to another selection, not once, but twice.

The election worker called the Wharton County elections office. Welch was astute enough to see that the suggested solution was not responsive to the real issue:

"You may continue on with this ballot if you like," said the elections worker after conferring with Wharton County elections personnel, "Or I can void this and you can start over."

This is a machine that had already demonstrated it can't be trusted. This is a machine that would fail the much-touted "Logic & Accuracy" testing purported to prove voting machines don't cheat. This is a machine that would not have passed certification tests had it performed this way for the test labs. This is a machine that has no business counting votes at all.

And because the iVotronic voting systems are centrally programmed, and the programming defines how the machine counts its votes, this is a machine that has single-handedly cast doubt on every other iVotronic voting machine in Wharton County.

Jim Welch spoke with Wharton County Clerk Judy Owens about the matter, and she provided answers that were even more unrelated to the problem:

"You can go back and check your vote before casting it," she pointed out, referring to the voter's ability to page back one by one to review each panel. But if the machine can alter a vote - especially if the timing is such that this happens after you have moved to a new page - what good will that do?

"We can print each vote out," she said, but Welch astutely questioned how and when votes can be printed, They aren't printed at the same time as the voter votes, and the printouts simply re-create what the computer program records, so what good is that?

What can be done about this?

Welch has indicated that he will be willing to file certain public records requests to cast more light on this issue. He is meeting with other public officials in an effort to get paper ballots.

Black Box Voting has set up a new Election Protection section of this Web site. Welch and other citizens can publish all documents, results, and reports immediately now. Each state has an area for each jurisdiction. Go to "Forums" and scroll to the state, choose "Election Protection" and scroll to the appropriate county.

Wharton County can be found here:
Three ways to upload documents:

1) Mail them to Black Box Voting and we'll scan and post
2) Fax them to our magic toll free fax number, which converts them to pdf format, and we'll post them. To get the magic fax number, e-mail and ask for it.
3) Self-upload the documents: Register, log in, go to state and county, post a message and use the "attach" feature to attach your scanned document.

Black Box Voting will provide related follow-up public records request letters for Jim Welch and other citizens who wish to investigate this matter. E-mail if you'd like to get involved in this or other Election Protection actions.


County clerk caught in the middle

Although County Clerk Judy Owens provided solutions nonresponsive to the problem, she is probably caught in the middle. Wharton County has a total population of just over 40,000, and no doubt this county clerk is wearing a lot of hats at once, probably none of which involve being a computer expert.

So she's trying to achieve damage control, probably with good intentions -- when in reality she was victimized by either the ES&S programmers or their subcontractor via a programming error or malicious coding. That situation would blow up her entire election, so she's faced with a PR problem and a damage control problem.

Vote of no confidence for Wharton County elections based on this incident.

Some solutions for Wharton County officials

Wharton County commissioners and the Wharton County Clerk should contact Bobby Kennedy Jr. to provide their information to his voting system false claims lawsuit, and should also talk with John Bonifaz of to discuss how to use consumer protection litigation to get their money back on this defective system and its defective programming. BBV will provide Wharton County officials with the appropriate contact information for legal support if officials e-mail us privately.

Or, they can deny and minimize this very significant problem, which would take Wharton County officials out of the category of public officials vicitimized by opaque privatized programming and shoddy voting systems, and put them into the category of enablers, and there are generally consequences for that when citizen oversight groups kick in.

Posted by: Prove Our Democracy with Paper Ballots on December 1, 2007 11:00 PM

As bad as the voting machines may be the real problems are back in the county clerks' offices where anyone with access can change the voting tabulation database records with no audit trail....

Posted by: Gary Denton on December 2, 2007 12:43 PM