Thursday, November 06, 2008

Eagle County has encountered a number of similar problems with HART

Excerpt from article reproduced in full at bottom of email (referring to Boulder County vote counting delays)

To ensure accuracy, election workers are visually checking a picture of
each ballot on computers, searching for the troublesome dust line. Though
officials hope a couple of technological fixes will speed up the counting, the
rate of votes counted Wednesday hung around 1,200 ballots an hour.
is more important than speed,” said Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary
Hall. “People expect accuracy — this is the job I was elected to do.”

The molasses speed of the counting process is frustrating Hall, but
perhaps more confounding is that there doesn’t appear to be any obvious
explanation for why the paper-dust problem showed up now.

“I just don’t know,” she said. “If this is a common problem, I’ve
frankly never heard about it.”
The Laura Snider article is quite reasonable
in its coverage of the Boulder vote counting process.

Why hasn’t Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall heard about dust problems on her Hart Scanners? I would suggest that the reason is that there is no mechanism for this kind of problem sharing to take place. The manufacturer has little motivation to encourage the sharing of election problems with their equipment… the CCCI (clerks association) doesn’t either, apparently, other than what happens through serendipity. The state has no mechanism for this and the election quality advocates among the public are largely shut out of the process so have difficulty learning about these problems, and also have problems having their criticisms heard once they do have information.

Eagle County has encountered a number of similar problems with Hart and Kodak systems, and has been very frustrated by the operation of this system during the past few days. Will the reports of this frustration reach other counties and other states? Probably not.

“The county needs to talk to their printer,” said Peter Lichtenheld, director of
marketing for Hart InterCivic. “Hart did not print the ballots ... and the
printer did not use Hart secure ballot stock.”
Unlike Boulder, Eagle County has its ballots manufactured by Hart. These ballots are also problematic but in a different way. They do not seem to be emitting dust particles, but they are showing evidence shadow imprinting of portions of the ballot onto other portions. In our case, fortunately, this is occurring only on the removable stub… but in past elections we have experienced transfer of ballot toner onto the active part of the ballot (on Diebold printed ballots in the past).

In addition, Hart created (I do not think these are actually, technically, “printed”) ballots are folded at the factory. These multiple folds are very difficult to straighten out and have caused immense difficulty in feeding the ballots into the scanners. On many batches there are one or more ballots which fail to scan and therefore have to be deleted from the digital records and rescanned in an adjacent batch. (Alternatively the batch must be sequentially rescanned until successful, but this proves to be too slow). In another area, the score at the top of each page which allows the stub to be removed is too weak and hence the stub is extremely difficult to remove, also delaying the scanning process and often leaving a rough edge at the top of the ballot.

Eagle County is stopping to dismantle parts from the scanners and vacuum the interior on a very frequent basis. During the tests it was found that the scanner needed extra white metal shields to be added to successfully scan 17” ballots. This information had not been provided in advance by Hart.

It was also discovered that inserting ballots bottom first caused an extra load on the ballot processing software, actually slowing the process and causing it to run out of memory, frequently. When it ran out of memory the program would not recover gracefully. This actually caused certain batches of ballots to consistently fail to scan. When all ballots were loaded head first, this problem was relieved (apparently for technical reasons related to the design of the software, but probably never encountered during State testing and in any case unknown to Hart system users). However it was then discovered that since the first fold was about ¾ of an inch from the top, the ballots were bent in a direction which, if inserted top up, would not allow the scanner roller to pick up the pages consistently. It was deemed necessary to load the ballots bottom up. None of this was advised by Hart, the voting system supplier, in advance and was all discovered in the initial scanning process of this particular ballot in this election.

Will reports of these problems reach Hart and other Hart county users? Will someone make a huge manual of gotchas which will benefit local election officials?


The remaining references to attention to detail in this article are admirable.. I note that John Gideon’s 2005 report of the white line is probably not entirely what Boulder County is experiencing although it may be part of it. I suspect that there are a variety of single pixel or larger black marks on the ballots as well. It would be better if the press were able to get sufficient access to be able to report accurately on this topic.

Harvie Branscomb
Eagle County Canvass Board
(Eagle is a user of a similar system to that used in Boulder County)

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