Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


TV report questions Westmoreland, Allegheny voting machines

By Rich Cholodofsky, TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Debate over touch screen voting swirled anew Tuesday in the wake of a national television program investigation that questioned the security and construction quality of computerized voting machines.


Among the targets in the report, which aired last night on HDNET, were the iVotronic electronic voting machines supplied by Election Systems & Software of Nebraska, the kind of machines used in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.


The television report, hosted by Dan Rather, suggested that working conditions in overseas factories led to problems with the machine's manufacture as well as potential security risks and tampering associated with tabulating votes.


Westmoreland County Elections Bureau Director Jim Montini said the concerns about the machines, which have been used in the last three local elections, are unwarranted.


"The machines are fine. They're stand-alone machines, and we're not on any network. They're dumb terminals. You can't tap into a network," Montini said.


Westmoreland County has had only minor problems with the system. Last year, because of a programming error, a time stamp code caused some of the touch screen voting machines to prematurely shut down. Officials said the error did not affect vote totals or tabulations and has been corrected.


Local officials reported no problems during the May primary.


Election Systems & Software officials also disputed the televised report's findings.


ES&S spokeswoman Amanda Brown yesterday suggested that the broadcast intentionally miscalibrated the voting machines as part of a demonstration that showed problems with the equipment. She said her company tests the voting machines before they are shipped from its manufacturing facility.


"Based on what we have seen online of the program, it will include misleading and inaccurate information," Brown said.


Opponents of computerized voting systems continue to sound alarms about potential problems, pointing to a decision earlier this month in California that questioned security of a number of such systems.


One, a paper ballot system in which pen marks are scanned by a computer, was decertified by the state because its manufacturer, ES&S, did not submit paperwork on time. That voting system is used only in Los Angeles.


Marybeth Kuznik, executive director of VotePa., the watchdog group that is leading the charge against the state's computerized voting systems, said there is great potential for problems.


"Pennsylvania, with no voter verified paper ballots, there's no way to piece our election back together. If we have a failure, we are really going to be in trouble," Kuznik said.


State law prohibits using a paper trail to back up vote totals.


However, the federal government could intervene. Legislation is pending in Congress that would require all computerized voting machines to incorporate paper trails to verify vote totals.


Efforts to make that law, though, have stalled. A bill pending in the House was reported out of committee, but no vote has been scheduled. A Senate bill on the same matter is stuck in committee.


Rich Cholodofsky can be reached at or 724-837-0240.