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11/7/2012
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Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches

President Obama was re-elected on Tuesday, but not without glitches and malfunctions reported by users of digital voting technologies.

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The 2012 election relied more heavily on technology, including digital voting, than ever before. While voters came out en masse to narrowly re-elect President Barack Obama, not everything went exactly as planned. There were plenty of examples of broken and malfunctioning voting machines, a flawed email voting scheme in New Jersey and other problems.

Reports of problems with voting machines started even before Election Day. On Monday, the Ohio Green Party chairman filed suit seeking removal of software upgrades on voting machines in 39 Ohio counties because they were not tested or certified as required by law. Early voters in Pueblo, Colo., and Adams County, Colo., reported that voting machines were changing their votes.

One of the big stories on election day was a video, initially posted to YouTube and Reddit, of an electronic voting machine in Perry County, Penn., repeatedly changing a vote for President Obama to one for Mitt Romney. The video, which received more than 500,000 views throughout the day, showed the error in real time as the voter pressed next to President Obama's name only to have Mitt Romney's name selected.

According to reports, the machine was taken out of service once the problem was indicated, but was later recalibrated and placed online, with no further problem reports.

Machines changing votes weren't the only problem of the day. In many locations, there were examples of machines that were on the fritz. For example, in heavily populated Cuyahoga County in swing state Ohio, there were a number of reports that ballot counting machines were jammed, with some having to be replaced, despite having been tested before Election Day.

Some voting machines were also reported to be malfunctioning or broken in places as distant as Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York City, Rehoboth, Mass., Milwaukee, Columbia, S.C., Chandler, Ariz., and South Florida. A number of these problems led to long lines at the polls. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted calling his city's new voting system, which included a new scanner, a "nightmare."

On Saturday, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey announced that it would allow those affected by the storm to vote by email. Security researchers and political academics quickly expressed concern about hacking.

However, it wasn't hacking that caused the most trouble, but rather confusion and a full email inbox. Many people did not know where to send applications. Additionally, according to reports, the email addresses of clerks in populous Morris and Essex counties were not receiving emails. Also, the Essex County clerk's substitute, reachable via a personal Hotmail account, appeared to have protected the account with only a weak security question.

There was also a problem of overflowing inboxes. "It has become apparent that the county clerks are receiving applications at a rate that outpaces their capacity to process them without an extension of the current schedule," New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said in a statement released Tuesday. "Given this extraordinary volume, if a displaced voter can vote by other means, they are urged to do so." In the end, New Jersey said that the state would continue to accept electronic ballots through Friday.

Despite the glitches, new technology also played a positive part in the elections. For example, online voter registration was on the rise in the 2012 registration. Washington state, for example, made use of a Facebook app to register new voters. Other states allowing online registration included California, Maryland, Nevada and Washington, D.C.

Additionally, some disabled voters in Oregon voted on Samsung Series 7 tablets running Windows 8 rather than custom-made and expensive voting machines. One precinct in Virginia pilot tested a Microsoft Surface tablet as a voting device.

Outside the voting booth, new technology played a starring role for voters and vote watchers. Voting apps allowed people to share on Facebook the fact that they had voted, while a widget on Google's homepage showed people where to vote and many online news outlets updated vote counts in close to real time. The vote ended up as the most-Tweeted event of all time.

More than half of federal agencies are saving money with cloud computing, but security, compatibility, and skills present huge problems, according to our survey. Also in the Cloud Business Case issue of InformationWeek Government: President Obama's record on IT strategy is long on vision but short on results. (Free registration required.)

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shockeymoe
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shockeymoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2012 | 7:38:22 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
In all my years of IT I have never heard anyone use the term re-calibrate to describe a fix to a purely digital system.
"Calibration is a comparison between measurements G«Ű one of known magnitude or correctness made or set with one device and another measurement made in as similar a way as possible with a second device." Wikipedia
Sounds like some non-tech has got themselves into the communication stream and everyone is repeating the same phrases without really digging in.
Untested software, as cited earlier in the document, is far more often the issue than "calibration".
Configuration maybe. But that would mean somebody is inputting some rather suspicious logic.
What was really wrong with the voting machine?
Lobo VNVMC
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Lobo VNVMC,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2012 | 11:51:32 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
Most of the voting machines I've seen and used are touch screens. When calibration is referred to they are talking about calibrating the screen to touch. I also learned this voting cycle that the battery in some machines warps the screen when it gets hot throwing the calibration off. There is a fix; they are replacing the screens with ones that are not susceptible to heat.
hoohah
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hoohah,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2012 | 11:57:04 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
Calibration or alignment is necessary on most touch screens to assure that the measured location of finger or stylus pressure corresponds with the image being displayed. I don't know how you could have avoided it when you describe your experience as "all my years". I remember doing it often at least a dozen years ago on my Palm III and Vx. Google "touch screen alignment" or "touch screen calibration".

Misalignment is a serious problem in touch screen voting machines and users need to be very cautious to check that machines register their intended selections.
shockeymoe
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shockeymoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2012 | 3:49:49 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
Got it.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2012 | 9:47:22 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
We have a national income tax. We should be able to have one clean, efficient national voting system. I know from talking to a fellow attendee at Cloud Expo in Santa Clara that voting systems vary widely in how they operate. In Texas, they punch holes in the card to indicate preference. In California, we use a black pen to connect the gap between two black marks by the candidate we wish to vote for. That may make for automated counting, but the polling place staff had to rip multiple cards out of big tablets, along with receipts, assemble them in a folded paper cover and hand them to each voter. Seemed to take a long time -- an extra 30-40 seconds of time spent standing in line to vote on election day for every voter. I like the ritual; hate the wait. Workers who have to punch a clock may not have the luxury, even if the law claims you get two hours to vote..
shockeymoe
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shockeymoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2012 | 10:41:04 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
I have worked in various roles during our elections in Canada at the federal level as well as the provincial level. The process is paper based for the most part and fairly labour intensive but the results have been trusted for decades and it is very standardized and well scrutinized.
The hours of voting on election day at a general election, or when by-elections are held on the same day in more than one time zone, have been staggered so that the majority of results are available at approximately the same time across the country.
Recounts are mandated in certain circumstances of course but as a nation we generally know our results very quickly.
As an IT analyst I often view situations where throwing the technology at the problem can cause more problems than it solves. The voting process in the US can be improved and some national standardization would be a good first step imho. Questioning the need for imposing technology to essentially count "Xs" would perhaps be a good starting point.
nbatik786
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nbatik786,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2012 | 4:32:41 AM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
Voting, while a national issue, would not benefit from a national solution because there are too many variations:

- Buford, Wyoming (pop. 1) does not have the same requirements as New York City (pop. 8.2M);
- Climate extremes in Buras, LA, Death Valley, CA, or Kotzebue, AK would require environmental hardening for transportation and storage (and maybe even use) that would be overkill for most of the rest of the country;
- many evoting machines require technical personnel to program, calibrate, install firmware upgrades, upload vote tallies, etc. which would be challenging for many small, rural communities;
- the cost of voting is typically covered by the city of county. Too many budget-strapped local governments would have to rely upon subsidies, which could easily become another contested political football;
- standardizing on a single system would assign a monopoly to a single company, which would be contested in court by competing companies. A single provider would also become a target hackers, internal espionage, and corruption;
- a standardized interface might simplify the system and spur competition, but would probably infringe on someone's patent, and again, wind up in the courts.
- systems around aging populations need ease of use, the ones around technical communities may need better security;
- it's a little difficult to e-vote from Forward Operating Base Chapman, Afghanistan;

Finally, the whole process is still pretty new. Right now lots of places are trying lots of options, and eventually we may get to a commodity solution, but we are far from there, yet.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. Few systems beat the reliability of pencil and paper (not the punch-a-hole, hanging chad variety), but you can't get instant results at poll close. With e-voting, expect failures and try to improve with each iteration.
J. Nicholas Hoover
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J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2012 | 3:15:51 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
While most other countries have standardized elections, and while your point is well taken, I have to wonder if the United States isn't so large that one size necessarily fits all, particularly as regards variables like climate, population density, and availability of technical know-how.
shockeymoe
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shockeymoe,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2012 | 5:50:57 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
With all due respect we have all of those challenges and then some in Canada. Our country is geographically larger, our climate more harsh, a wider variability in population density, and on tech know-how I'd call it a draw.
We haven't had much appetite for eVoting although there have been some projects. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron...
We get our results quickly. Our last election was decided at 10:51 EST. Of course we don't have all of the votes in and we unfortunately don't have Karl Rove to freak out... we are a sober bunch.
As far as privatization of the voting system, not bloody likely!
Jschmidt27
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Jschmidt27,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2012 | 9:17:42 PM
re: Election 2012: New Voting Tech Caused Some Headaches
Voting is not important. The Democrats show that when they fight voter id laws which are the same requirements to get on an airplane, to get medical service or to get in to see an Obama speech. Of course that is another discussion. One rule is software should not be purchased from an oversees company. There is too much potential for rigging. All software should go under rigorous independent checking. Make it a Consumer Reports type organization, independent from govt and the manufacturers. I think I'd like to see a copy of my vote, either hard copy or through some database. But then that would necessitate saving a copy of the vote. I think getting a receipt would be the best way. The paper ballot would have to be time stamped and the receipt issued. I don't trust anyone when it comes to votes.
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