HeraldTribune.com Southwest Florida's Information Leader
March 14, 2007
Voting machine maker warned of 'issue'
By JEREMY WALLACE
H-T POLITICAL WRITER
A voting machine manufacturer warned state elections officials and Sarasota County's Supervisor of Election of an "issue" with its equipment months before the disputed Nov. 7 election but no changes were made, a new memo shows.
Even though Election Systems & Software recommended in the Aug. 15 memo that all of its Florida customers -- including Sarasota County -- train poll workers and voters to expect slow responses on the touch-screen voting machines when their selections were made, Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said the state determined it was too close to the election to make any changes.
Dent also said the instructions on how to use the iVotronic machines at polling sites seemed to cover what ES&S recommended.
In addition, ES&S' promised fixes for the problem never were made available before the Nov. 7 election, state officials said.
Democrat Christine Jennings' attorney, Sam Hirsch, said the new memo is significant to Jennings' case for a new election for two key reasons. First, it shows that ES&S acknowledged problems with the equipment despite assurances that there were no problems, Hirsch said.
Secondly, Hirsch said it shows the state, ES&S and Dent have withheld information his team requested months ago. Jennings' legal team requested copies of all correspondence between Dent and ES&S, but the memo only became public after surfacing on an Internet site weeks ago, Hirsch said.
"How could we not have gotten this?" Hirsch asked.
What's troublesome, Hirsch said, is that ES&S said it would need to install a software patch to fix the problem, yet there never was any patch submitted to the state before the now controversial Nov. 7 election.
Republican Vern Buchanan was certified the winner of the Nov. 7 election by 369 votes. But Jennings is challenging the results, saying an abnormally high undervote cost her the election.
About 18,000 Sarasota County voters who went to the polls did not cast a vote in the Congressional race. The 13 percent undervote was substantially higher than in surrounding counties or in other top-of-the-ticket races.
The case is before a state appeals court, which is supposed to rule soon on whether Jennings should have access to ES&S' software codes.
Jennings is also petitioning the U.S. House to overturn the election results. The House is expected to investigate after the Florida courts rule.
A state elections spokesman said a recent state audit of the Sarasota County results determined there was no correlation between the delay ES&S warned about and the undervote. Florida Division of Elections spokesman Sterling Ivey confirmed that no patch was ever submitted to the state for certification.
Hirsh said there is no correspondence showing what happened to the problem or if it was fixed after the primary election on Sept. 5 primary.
In the Aug. 15 letter, ES&S regional account manager Linda Bennett says "after a number of inquiries" ES&S verified that voting machines were showing slow response times. They pinpointed the problem to a "smoothing filter" that delayed selections after a voter touched the screen.
"In some cases, the time lapse on these consistent reads is beyond the normal time a voter would expect to have their selection highlighted," Bennett writes in the letter. "The delayed response to touch may vary from terminal to terminal and also may not occur every single time a terminal is used."
Jeremy Wallace can be reached at 361-4966 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: March 14. 2007 6:30PM