Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Alaska Dems Battle State Over E-voting

Alaska Dems Battle State Over E-voting
Marc Songini

An examination of the e-voting database and its audit logs from the November 2004 general election in Alaska found that changes were made to thedatabase in the months after the votes were tallied, according to the state’s Democratic Party.

The party contends that a study of the electronic voting database, which it obtained a copy of last month after a long battle with the state, revealed that the database had been accessed as recently as this July.

“The [state's] Division of Elections has not comprehensively explained and corrected the situation,” said Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown.

The logs were generated by Diebold Election Systems’ AccuVote-OS optical-scan voting systems, which were used statewide in the election.

The party had sought a copy of the AccuVote voting database last December to reconcile apparent discrepancies in voting results compiled by the state after the November election. The Alaska Division of Elections first rejected the request but relented last month.

Democrats had filed a lawsuit in April to force the state to release the documents. That suit remains open in Alaska’s Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the state last week rejected the Democratic Party’s Oct. 5 request for a copy of the database as it stood just after the election in order to determine what manual modifications were later made. The state contended that there is no unchanged version of the database.

Many Manual Votes

Brown said that experts from Black Box Voting, a Renton, Wash.-based nonprofit voter advocacy group commissioned by the party to review the contents of the database, also found an “incredibly high” number of manual votes added to it shortly after the 2004 elections.

According to the Democratic Party, the study by Black Box revealed that 293 votes were entered manually to the database between the election on Nov. 2 and Dec. 2, 2004.

While some manual entries are expected as a result of mismarked ballots, the study’s total was far more than normal, the party contended. “This calls into question the certified numbers,” said Brown.

Annette Kreitzer, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for the Division of Elections, contended that the Black Box Voting analysis is flawed. Moreover, she said that the number of manual entries was acceptable for a large rural state like Alaska.

“We don’t have anything to hide,” Kreitzer said.

Brown said the study of the database did not resolve what she called huge discrepancies in the vote totals originally tallied just after the election by the elections agency. She said that two separate election reports — overall statewide results and those of individual voting districts — varied by “orders of magnitude.”

E-voting Questions
The Alaska Democratic party said a study of the state's e-voting database after the November 2004 election found:

• Votes added manually to the database for about a month after the election ended• Audit logs in the voting database have been accessed as recently as July 2006• No copy of the database as it stood just after that election
For example, Brown said a tally of individual district vote counts gave President George W. Bush 292,267 votes. The statewide count, on the other hand, listed 190,889 Bush votes — a difference of 101,378. The statewide total was the official one in Bush’s easy victory in the state.

Brown also said the count showed that 16 districts had a voter turnout of at least 200%.

Kreitzer said the discrepancies were caused by an erroneous counting process used by the state elections program manager. The elections agency contends that the database log proves that the 2004 statewide vote totals are accurate, according to Kreitzer.

She defended the elections agency’s decision to reject early requests by the party for the database. The party’s request first sought the database file structure, which included sensitive information and violated the state’s contract with Diebold, she noted.

The agency declined to release the logs even after Diebold approved the request because it feared such a move might compromise the state’s core IT systems, said Kreitzer.

“The situation in the state does make me worry about the integrity of the system,” said Brown. “I’m a lot more suspicious than I used to be.”

A spokesman for Allen, Texas-based Diebold said the company will do what it can to meet the requests of both the elections agency and Alaska’s Democratic Party.