St. Petersburg Times


Terms of vote review disputed


The state says the machine maker sent terms for a review of the Sarasota race but it ignored them.



Published March 27, 2007


The maker of the voting machines used in the disputed Sarasota area congressional race sent a letter to state officials dictating the terms of a state-funded audit of its machines.


State election officials initially said Monday that they agreed to abide by the parameters set by the manufacturer, Electronic Systems & Software, but hours later called back to say that was not correct.


Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the state division of elections, said the letter arrived too late to affect the study, which was already under way, and even if it hadn't, the state would not agree to those terms.


Republican Vern Buchanan was sworn in to the U.S. House in January, but Democrat Christine Jennings refuses to concede, disputing her loss in the Florida courts and in Congress.


The three-page letter from ES&S listed more than two dozen terms, including that the review should not include statements about "potential" situations, what "might" have occurred and possible "vulnerabilities."


"The review is not a search for doubt but rather needs to be a search for conclusive evidence of error or fraud," according to the letter. "If no conclusive evidence is found, then all other statements are not necessary."


The letter stated that the researchers should assume that the "best election administration practices and procedures have been used" and the physical security of all equipment had been maintained.


Jennings' campaign said it learned about the Dec. 15 letter from ES&S vice president Steven Pearson to David Drury, the chief of the state's Bureau of Voting Systems Certification, through its lawsuit.


"It's appalling that ES&S would go to such lengths to prevent a fair and thorough review of their voting system," Jennings spokesman David Kochman said. "It's obvious that they're more concerned about protecting their profits than protecting people's right to vote."


The letter dictated that the company review the report first and that any copies of the report that violate the agreement be destroyed and rewritten.


The state paid independent researchers to look into why more than 18,000 people, or 13 percent of all voters, did not record a vote in the race, a rate higher than in other counties in the congressional district. The state concluded last month that the machines were not faulty.


Alec Yasinsac, a Florida State University computer science professor and project leader, said the group was never given a copy of the letter nor did it agree to any of the terms. He also said their official statement deviates significantly from the guidelines.


"The report doesn't reflect anything like that," he said. "There was no impact."


State election officials originally said Monday that they agreed to abide by the ES&S letter because the company demanded compliance before allowing private researchers to have access to their voting machines' hardware and software.


This was the first time in Florida history a private company had turned over its machines for review so the state had no guidelines for an audit.


But in the end, Sterling said, ES&S did not give the researchers the source code - the internal workings of the touch screen machines - because the two sides could not come to terms. Instead, the state gave the researchers the code directly, and ES&S' requirements were ignored.


Staff writer Anita Kumar can be reached at or 202-463-0576.


Fast Facts:


Company's requests


- No statements about "potential" situations.


- No statements that discuss what "might" have occurred.


- No statements about possible "vulnerabilities."


- No statements about the "style" of the source code.


-No statements about conditions not determinable or indeterminate conditions. If the result is not able to be determined, then such statements are not to be included.


- No statements commenting on the use of less desirable techniques, instructions or constructs.


- No statements rendering opinions on proper use, improper use or correctness of source code.


- No statements rendering opinions on security techniques employed or not employed.


- No statements discussing presence or absence of cryptography or other security methods and technologies.


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