Another Florida recount

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This Wired blog post covers the election for a Palm County Floria Circuit Court judge seat. Summary: the race was close and when officials went to do the legally required recount they couldn't find almost 3500 ballots (the election was run on optically scanned ballots). The resulting recount flipped the result of the election. Then when they searched for them they found them and an extra 200 ballots. When those ballots were counted, the result flipped back. In races this close, officials are required to examine rejected paper ballots, but then a review of the ballots indicated that 159 other ballots may never have been tabulated, potentially due to scanner discrepancies. Note that only the last of these is even arguably a failure of the voting hardware itself; the rest is just procedural failures.

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The most disturbing thing to me about Wired's account is the assertion that the county was going to certify the election after the first recount--which included switching the winner--knowing full well that they were missing 3500 of the original ballots. It was only after the state forced them to that the county went and looked hard. WTF?

A close second is the fact that the Sequoia scanners produced different results when fed the exact same set of ballots twice.

Prof. Ed Felten is coming to Univ. of Illinois at Chicago next Friday to speak on electronic voting. It should be interesting to hear what he says. On his blog [1] is an account of how his petition to observe the counting process on Sequoia computers for Mercer County (NJ) was denied. Reason: election is too important to let extra people in the polling place (even though some counties in NJ allow public to witness the ballot counting; I do not know whether Mercer is among them.) However, Prof. Felten's petition was rejected primarily because his associate who was to observe the election result was an expert on Sequoia voting machines.

Among other things, I was talking to a professor at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and she was recounting an incident where she (and others on the e-voting observer committee) were not permitted in a polling place (probably in Cook County where Chicago is housed) to witness the count, *even though* Sequoia personnel were present at the site running SQL queries on the data in *real time*! At least one can hope that all they were doing were running queries and not inserting extra data.

Even the mere appearance of impropriety can lead people to think they have been disenfranchised, whether or not they actually have been. That is why it is so important to have transparency in e-voting and it appears that this is unfortunately missing.

[1] Ed Felton's blog archived at
http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/blog

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