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Can we trust paperless voting using electronic machines.

A Microvote Infinity voting machineWe all know that computers some times have a mind of their own, they are subject to programming errors, software bugs, hackers, viruses, and even random unexplained glitches. You may not have thought about them in this way, but electronic voting machines are also computers. Can we really trust them?

Computers will do what the people who programs it instructs it to do, An unscrupulous programmer or hacker could modify the voting machines or the tabulating software to take your vote, and to give it to another candidate, while still showing a message on the display screen indicating your vote was correctly cast for your choice of candidate.

Something of this nature would be totally undetectable unless you can review each line of the source code or collection of instructions which tell the machine how to work.

I campaigned against the selection of the Microvote Infinity voting machines which Montgomery County eventually purchased for use in the upcoming election. I was seriously concerned about machines accuracy and auditability. I am not totally against electronic voting machine, instead I am very much in favor of having a voter verified paper audit trail.

A voter verified paper audit trail means that when you cast your vote, the machine prints out a receipt which you review for accuracy and then it is placed in locked ballot box and can be audited if there is any doubts about the election. Currently most voting machines do not have this feature or do not have it enabled. While this would not be foolproof, it would give us a way to reconstruct an election which resulted from a faulty voting machine or from an intentional manipulation of the vote totals.

So we said this to our elected officials on the county commission:

if you purchase these machines at least give us the ability to be sure of their accuracy by printing a paper receipt for the voter to review.

They declined.

You might think it is some kind of a conspiracy theory to believe that someone might have an interest in overriding the will of the people of the United States as expressed by their vote? Watch this video and then see if you can still believe that:


These machines have a history of glitches and errors.

In June 2004, the machines we are going to use registered 1500 more ballots than the number of voters who were recorded as voting.

Jasper County, South Carolina. Results of the June 8 election were certified before the county noticed that there were 1500 more ballots counted than the number of voters who signed in to vote. Some 521 people voted in the Ridgeland 1 precinct’s County Council Pocotaligo race, according to the Election Commission’s original election certification on June 10. Some 432 voted in the council’s Hardeeville race at the precinct. And, 548 voted in the precinct for the council’s at-large race. Yet, the precinct’s voter sign-in sheet shows that only 298 people actually voted there.

…”Evidently, it was a (voting) machine error,” Jasper Election Commission Chairman Lawrence Bowers said.

…Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Barbara Pinckney said Friday she doesn’t know where the

1,500 phantom votes came from. “But they didn’t change outcomes or the percentages,” she said. But, in fact, they did in at least one race – the County Council at-large seat between incumbent Gladys Jones and challengers Samuel Gregory and D.P. Lowther.

Ms. Pickney’s claim is further contradicted by a later article:

Although initial election results from the primary earlier this month showed Jones in the lead with 1,661 votes to Gregory’s 1,470, a recount last week had Gregory bettering the incumbent, 1,139 votes to 1,079.

The county Democratic Party called for the recount after a series of mistakes in how the election was run including a log-in book showing a total of 521 votes cast by only 298 voters and, in the Gillisonville precinct, a race in which three candidates all received 111 votes each, was detected.

VotersUnite! wondered how a recount was done on paperless MicroVote DREs, so we spoke with Cathy Morgan, Jasper County Election Supervisor. Ms. Morgan said that they used the tapes from the machines, since the number of ballots recorded on individual tally tapes matched the number of voters. The problem had occurred when the precinct totals were accumulated in the central tabulation computer. Vote data from a previous election had been not been deleted and those votes were included in the 2004 totals.

Recount shows massive error in Jasper voting. Ridgeland: 1,500 phantom votes were cast in last week’s election. Carolina Morning News. July 19, 2004. By Mark Kreuzwieser.


Jones defends seat in Jasper squeaker. Beaufort Gazette. June 23, 2004. By Omar Ford, staff writer.


In July, 2004 the machines we are going to use were unable to be tabulated and it required a manual extraction. I wonder how you can manually extract votes from a machine which is malfunctioning and still have faith in the reliability of the tally.

Pender County, North Carolina. One of the county’s 74 machines wouldn’t tally the votes. All of Pender County votes electronically, and the county has 74 of these machines. But on Tuesday, one of them didn’t work. “There was a machine that would not tally. We had the precinct workers bring in the machine for that and we had to extract those votes and count them manually,” said Frances Pinion the Pender County Board of Elections Director.

In May 2005 in Sumner County, Tennessee with the machines we are going to use, a machine had an error which resulted in it locking up and the votes on the machine being unable to be properly tabulated on election night. The next day they were recovered after calling in a technician who extracted the votes. The technician and machine were in public view at all times. My question is was the machine in question watched the entire time from the point it malfunctioned to the point where the technician extracted the votes, does this also include throughout the night until the technician arrived?

Sumner County, Tennessee. Paperless Infinity voting machine locked up and failed to release votes. VotersUnite.Org heard from a citizen in Cookeville, Tennessee: A Microvote machine malfunctioned in a city of Portland election in Sumner Co., TN. The reports claims that 110 votes were not able to be retrieved on election night. The next morning changes were made and the 110 votes were supposed recaptured. This type of problem is very typical with the Microvote Infinity unit in the state of Tennessee. VotersUnite! contacted Wayne Pruett, election director in Sumner County, TN. Mr. Pruett said the Microvote Infinity voting machine had locked up around 2:00 on election day and was taken out of service. He called a technician from Indianapolis to come into the office and retrieve the votes. Mr. Pruett said the machine was always in public view in the county office and that the press and other observers were invited to view the retrieval process. He expressed complete confidence in the results.

This year in Grant County Indiana they had issues tabulating the votes which made them restart the counting process and re-enter 771 absentee ballots. I am not sure if this is Microvote related or not. I know the county in question used Microvote machines, however the problem may have been in the machines or in the tabulating software.

Grant County, Indiana Tabulation problems slowed down reporting of results. County Clerk Carolyn Mowery said there was some kind of an overload on their computer, which caused them to restart counting and reenter the 771 absentee ballots they had received. Other “glitches” occurred throughout the county and were minimized by the vendor. There were no major problems with the machines during voting, Mowery said. There were a few glitches here and there, but nothing that held up voting. “(It was) nothing that we couldn’t cure. Just normal things that happened in delivery,” said Charlie Williams, a voting machine mechanic.

A great quote I recently saw was:

When computers fear jail, they’ll be ready for elections. – Paul Lehto, Everett, Washington

This is something we should heed.

Knowing what you now know, can you truthfully say that you have absolute faith in the accuracy and accountability of the vote you cast on these machines. Because we are trusting these machines to be the voice of our Democracy by allowing them to handle the most important function that the citizens of our nation perform, voting.

We need a voter verified paper audit trail. While it may be too late for this years elections, we can enact this into law sometime in the next 2 years, and thus have protected ourselves in time for the 2008 elections!

Bill Larson
Bill Larson
Bill Larson is  is politically and socially active in the community. Bill is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave. You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.


  1. Bill you bring up a huge amount of great points. I to like the easy use of the new voting machines but after I pushed the red button to cast my votes I could not help but feel that something was missing.

    It was not like when I send out an email I always send a copy to myself as my receipt. But by not having a receipt of my vote I felt that I had no defense if the hardware became corrupted or like you mentioned in your article someone decides to hack into the system.

    This sounds like a much easier way of making what happen in Florida happen again when a favorite son does not win as planned.

    We need to stay on this issue until something is done. We should not wait until election time rolls around again.

    I am for lobbying our state reps year round!

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