North Carolina’s ballot blues
The News & Observer
Opinion: Point of view
Winston-Salem — We’ve got a problem
“North Carolina has the worst election problem in the country right now.”
Computer scientist Dr. David L. Dill of Stanford University
“A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air.”
AP Newswire, November 13,2004
Our key decision-makers are ignoring the seriousness of the problem
“Except for the lost votes in Carteret County, Gary Bartlett, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, called the problems ‘easily remedied and lessons learned.'”
AP Newswire, November 13, 2004
November 26, 2004 — North Carolina’s election problems will not be that easily remedied. This year’s disaster shows that many election workers are in over their heads.
Problems with voting machines, central tabulators using outdated and secret software, registration confusion, poll worker training, provisional ballots and absentee ballots are not easily remedied.
Add to all this the lack of a voter-verified paper ballot and you have no disaster recovery plan.
This is the case with more than 40 counties using touchscreen or “dial a vote” machines. The security of their votes depends on the software, source code and hardware of the voting machines. Election workers’ ability, or lack thereof, to operate and troubleshoot the machines can affect the security of the votes as well.
• Lost: 4,500 votes in Carteret County — paper ballots verified by voters and retained by the election officials would have saved these votes.
• Omitted: an entire precinct of 1,209 votes in Gaston County.
• Missing: 12,000 more votes in Gaston County not reported. The election director hired a voting machine technician to upload the county vote totals and did not oversee the process.
• Bamboozled: Guilford County bought vote-tabulating software that used outdated technology and with insufficient vote storage. As a result, Guilford County’s public vote totals for president were off by 22,000 votes.
• More votes than cast: Craven County reported 11,283 more votes for president than cast, voting with the same software as in Guilford County.
The State Board of Elections has relied on the advice of voting machine salesmen and turned a deaf ear to the good advice and warnings of computer scientists.
Voting machine salesmen gain access to some election officials via a private organization called the Election Center. This organization’s mission is to educate and inform election officials, yet it admits to accepting money from voting-machine companies. The Election Center hosts conferences for election officials at which salesmen provide parties, prizes and even a dinner cruise on the Potomac. North Carolina’s director of elections, Gary Bartlett, sits on the board of directors of the center.
Continued computer breakdowns and miscounts prove the need for a voter-verified paper ballot. This is not a receipt but a paper printout of the ballot, to be verified by the voter and kept by the election officials in case of recount, audit or computer breakdown.
The State Board of Elections can do the right thing by consulting computer scientists to recommend real requirements for our voting systems. It should also allow sufficient time for a thorough review by outside experts, to ensure that North Carolina’s voting system is the most secure and trustworthy in America.
Joyce McCloy is coordinator of the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting.
*Note – since this writing Gary Bartlett retired from the Election Center Board of Directors