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Published: Friday, 8/22/2008

Voting machine maker discloses program error


COLUMBUS - A major voting machine maker has notified its customers in 34 states that a programming error discovered during testing may cause votes to be dropped when they are uploaded to a computer server from the machines' vote-holding memory cards.

Premier Election Solutions Inc. supplies touch-screen voting systems as well as scanners for paper ballots to large and small customers throughout the nation. The error communicated in a Tuesday product advisory occurs when multiple memory cards are uploaded at the same time, and it is more likely to occur in jurisdictions that have several voters and use touch-screen voting systems, said Premier spokesman Chris Riggall.

The Allen, Texas-based Premier is a unit of North Canton-based Diebold Inc.

More voters and more touch-screen machines mean more memory cards. Each touch-screen machine has a memory card, and scanning machines that read thousands of paper ballots each only have one card.

In Ohio, where the glitch was discovered, it caused at least 1,000 total votes to be dropped in 9 of the 44 counties that used Premier's equipment during the March presidential primary and previous elections. The dropped votes were discovered within several hours by election officials who noticed the memory cards weren't being read properly. Workers re-fed the cards into the server until they worked, and the votes were added to the overall vote totals.

Errors that did not produce dropped votes were discovered in three other Ohio counties.

The company previously had blamed the problem solely on complications with an anti-virus software. Officials in Ohio's Butler County kept testing the machines and claimed there was a problem with the machines themselves. That was later verified by Premier's own testing.

The company said anti-virus software can cause the error, but that the programming glitch can produce the error even when the software isn't used.

Ohio will continue to use the Premier machines in the Nov. 4 election. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said identifying the cause of the problem will enable the state to prepare election officials to watch for the problem and correct it should it resurface. Premier said in its product advisory that the problem can be corrected as long as officials monitor whether the memory cards are being uploaded, and if they are not, reload them until they are.

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