Mark Crispin Miller Blog, Jan. 12, 2008
What a mess. Apparently the Diebold opscans in NH have been so prone to failure that the vendor, LHS Associates, was making countless quiet "house calls" just before the primary up there. This is not unusual: LHS is called in routinely, and not just in New Hampshire (the company operates throughout New England), "to step in to make voting problems disappear before elections."
Whether there was fraud up there or not (and real experts are still studying the data), this situation is completely unacceptable. So why is there no coverage of this issue? Here Dori Smith, a radio reporter in Connecticut (where she first discovered this disturbing trend statewide), reports what she learned from some town clerks in the Granite State.
Voting Machine Failures During
the 2008 Presidential Primary Race
By Dori Smith
Very early research reveals that chronic problems continue with Diebold's AccuVote Optical Scan voting machines in New Hampshire. I made six calls to New Hampshire town officials and in four instances there were reports of voting machine problems. The two other calls turned out to have been to areas where electronic voting is not in use and hand counts were done. A state wide study would likely reveal that the voting machines failed many times during the 2008 presidential Primary.
The vendor, LHS Associates of Methuen MA, is relied on heavily by town officials in New Hampshire. Town officials trust them and their representatives tend to step in to make voting machine problems disappear during elections. They are like copy machine repair staff in a frantic law office. Little would move without them.
If a statewide recount of New Hampshire scheduled January 16th goes ahead as planned any irregularities found could be cross referenced to towns where machines failed. However, first voting machine failures would have to be compiled. Such data combined with a top down investigation into the performance of all electronic voting machines in general could make the 2008 Presidential Election far more secure.
Of interest would be the number of times the voting machines were repaired, replaced, or in any way handled by town officials or LHS Associates of Methuen MA. Last minute repairs made to voting machines in advance of elections or mid election repairs are prime times for vulnerability to fraud.
Officials I spoke with were unclear that LHS was working under strict written security protocols other than those the clerks and other officials would have about set up and handling. That would include the fact that town officials would hold the keys, open machines for LHS staff members when they arrive to make repairs, and break the seals.
Computer scientists we spoke with in Connecticut such as Professor Michael Fischer of Yale University's Computer Science Department and Professor Alex Shvartsman of the University of Connecticut's Voting Research Team, recommend tight written legal protections governing the way voting machine failures are handled. Connecticut officials continue to work on problems that have arisen since they purchased the AccuVote Optical Scan machines in 2006.
My interviews with New Hampshire officials revealed a consistent lack of concern about security protocols that would restrict a vendor from coming in to replace parts or repair machines during all phases of elections. When I asked Rochester Clerk of the Election Cheryl Eisenberg to go over the voting machine security protocols that would apply to LHS staffers she said, "I don't think there is anything in writing as to how the situation would be handled. We rely on them, we trust them". Her remark typifies the way Town Clerks described their relationship with LHS during initial interviews.
The first six calls made revealed problems in four New Hampshire towns, Hanover, Exeter, Nashua and Manchester. The two other towns I phoned that day, Springfield and Bradford, were not using electronic voting machines.
Overview of trouble reports:
Betsy McClain, Deputy Town Clerk in Hanover New Hampshire, reported that their machine broke down during the election and LHS Associates came out to make repairs. This same machine had just been repaired by LHS for the same problem which was that a deflector or visor that guides votes into a bin for write ins versus regularly marked ballots was malfunctioning. The write ins were being directed into the regular vote bin. The LHS staffer reached into the machine and connected a cable.
Linda Hartson, Town Clerk of Exeter New Hampshire, also reported that LHS Associates came out and fixed the deflector or visor inside the mechanism during the primary race January 8th. This was again the deflector or visor that guides votes with write ins to one bin and regularly marked ballots to another bin.
Paul Bergeron, Clerk of the Election in Nashua New Hampshire oversees elections in 9 wards. He said he did have a bad memory card on set up and testing and he burned a new one and provided it to one of the wards. He did so under direction of LHS with their software on his laptop.
Trisha Piecuch, Town Clerk of Manchester New Hampshire, said she oversaw all of the phases of elections including set up and testing and the election itself. She said they had one memory card failure in Ward 3 and they used their back up card on hand to burn a new one for that ward under the supervision of LHS.
Also, one week prior to the primary race there was a problem with one of Manchester's AccuVote machines and an LHS Associates employee named Tina came out to repair it. She replaced a "chip and a reader" according to Piecuch. "I'm not sure what chip it is," she said. "It's the chip that will I'd say accepts the codes and everything like that. So they [LHS} again err on the side of caution and where it looked like it was a reader problem they decided to be safe and replace both because they didn't want us having any problems".
In some areas where town officials are not equipped to burn or code their own back up cards, the Town Clerks indicated that if memory cards failed during the election they would call LHS to come and change the card. This is consistent with what LHS staff members have told me about their routine practice where memory cards fail.
Yet, when I contacted Jim Kennedy, New Hampshire's Deputy Attorney General, to find out more he indicated that LHS would not make card switches in New Hampshire during elections. He said there are clear protocols for setting up machines and storing them having to do with seals and so on but he knew of no specific written security protocols that would apply to LHS. He said I should ask moderators and the Secretary of the State for further information.
He added, "If a town is going to use a voting machine it's up to that town to set up the contract with LHS to establish the voting machine in that town and to repair it according to what's required to run an election. And we certainly haven't received any complaints that LHS has failed in it's obligation to see that these voting machines are operating properly".
An investigation into New Hampshire's voting machines would likely reveal a lack of consistency in reporting on voting machine problems and mid election voting machine repairs. Officials at the polls clearly have the impression that the vendor, LHS, is a legitimate source for official guidance on addressing mid election problems. Yet, at the state level officials with legal oversight over voting machines are not aware of the seriousness of the repairs, or in some cases that they are even occuring. Consider this exchange with the Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire January 11, 2008.
Smith: What about security?
Kennedy: There is also security protocols," he explained. There are locks and seals that go on these machines during the day and actually our office conducted inspections throughout election day to insure that the seals were properly on the machines".
Smith: But what if say a memory card were to fail during the election and LHS were to come in and put in a different one?
Kennedy: That's not what's done in the State of New Hampshire. Actually by state and federal law we are required to retain the actual memory card that's used in the election. So to interchange a memory card I think would be odd.
Smith: I mean to replace it so the machine could be used.
Kennedy: I don't know of any circumstance that that's occurred here.
Smith: What about during set up if the card is tested and fails and so LHS is able to just send out a new one.
Kennedy: I'm not sure they send out a new memory card or that they fix the one they have or whatever is done. Certainly if the machine's not working how it should be working according to the test procedures that are laid out before the election commences that machine won't be used.
We tried to contact the Secretary of the State for further information but their phone was busy all afternoon on Friday. My exchange with Linda Hartson of Exeter reveals that in their region at least, a mid election memory card failure could very well result in a switch being made by LHS.
I asked her, Let's say the back up would fail what would they do?
Hartson: LHS provides back up memory cards but if a memory card failure were to occur during the election the vendor would arrive with another memory card. This is from LHS that I'm getting them and they are providing the back up. If they bring you another one you just put it in. there's no problem.
Smith: And it wouldn't be a problem if that happened during the election?
Hartson: Nope nope nope nope. Because you could run the report off the machine and then just put in the new memory card and it would keep on going. That's my understanding.
Smith: Right. So Linda Hartson, LHS trained our people, (in Connecticut) did they train you guys too?
For further details on Connecticut's struggles with LHS Associates search Talk Nation Radio at http://www.talknationradio.org or try Bradblog.com and ctnewsjunkie.com