The New York Times

December 25, 2005



California Demands Repairs to Software for Voting Machines


SACRAMENTO, Dec. 24 (AP) - California election officials have told one of the country's largest makers of voting machines to repair its software after problems with vote counts and verification surfaced in the state's special election in November.


In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Bradley J. Clark, the assistant secretary of state for elections, threatened to start the process of decertifying machines made by the maker, Election Systems and Software, if senior officials did not address the concerns immediately.


"The California secretary of state is deeply concerned about problems experienced by counties utilizing ES&S voting equipment and software," Mr. Clark wrote in a letter addressed to the company president, Aldo Tesi, nine days after the Nov. 8 election.


Software problems included incorrect counting of turnout figures, a malfunction that prevented voters from verifying that their choices were registered accurately and one machine recording the wrong vote in a test, according to the letter.


Eleven California counties used the company's voting machines in the special election. Election Systems and Software equipment also is used in 45 other states.


The problems in California are similar to ones the company has experienced elsewhere. In a 2004 primary election in Hawaii, glitches with the company's optical scanners led to a miscount of about 6,000 votes.


It is the second time this week that questions have arisen about electronic voting systems in California. The secretary of state's office also warned 17 counties that machines made by Diebold Election Systems must pass more rigorous security tests to be available for use in 2006. At issue with those machines is the computer language that secures ballot entries and instructs election officials on how to gain access to and tally the votes.


The state's letter to Election Systems and Software said it was imperative that company representatives "take corrective action as soon as possible."


Ken Fields, a spokesman for the company, which is based in Omaha, said officials had since met with the secretary of state's office.


"We listened carefully to the issues that they raised, and we've been working to address each of the issues," Mr. Fields said.


He said some of the problems outlined in the letter were caused by operator error or misunderstandings about how the software was to be used. None of the problems caused any incorrect votes to be recorded or affected the election results, Mr. Fields said.


A spokeswoman for Secretary of State Bruce McPherson declined to elaborate further on the Election Day mishaps, the problems discussed in the letter or the company's assertion that state officials were pleased with its proposed solutions.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company



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