March 17, 2009 By Matt Williams
The California Secretary of State's Office held a public hearing Tuesday to gather testimony about a software flaw in electronic voting systems that erased 197 vote-by-mail ballots in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election in Humboldt County, Calif.
The 'Deck 0" flaw automatically deletes the first batch of tallied votes from optical scan paper ballots after they are scanned into Premier Elections Systems' Global Election Management System (GEMS) version 1.18.19, according to the Secretary of State's Office. (Premier was formerly known as Diebold.)
The Secretary of State's Office also found problems with audit logs of version 1.18.19. It doesn't log important system events, records inaccurate timestamps, and contains a "clear" button that deletes logs.
Justin Bales, western region general manager of Premier, testified Tuesday that 16 California counties are using an updated version that fixes many of those problems. Premier isn't opposed to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertifying the flawed software version, he said. The deletion of ballots was inadvertent and election security is of paramount importance to Premier, Bales said.
Premier issued a workaround for the Deck 0 problem in 2004, but the Humboldt County elections worker who was informed about it left the county prior to the Nov. 4, 2008 election.
Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich testified that the county has decided to move to a new vendor for its electronic voting, but will have to use Premier systems for its next election in May.
Crnich and her office oversee an innovative program called the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project that relies upon volunteers to use a high-end scanner in order to produce digital images of all ballots. The images are uploaded to the Internet and are also available on DVD.
Kevin Collins, a volunteer for the transparency project, testified Tuesday that the vote tally inaccuracies in Humboldt County beg the question of many other elections in the U.S. have been unknowingly impacted by flaws in version 1.18.19. The software version is federally and state-certified.
According to California Elections Code, the Secretary of State has the authority to withdraw approval of an electronic voting system if it's defective. The decision would go into effect after a minimum of six months.
In 2007, Bowen ordered that California discontinue using touchscreen e-voting technology.