South Carolina’s Democratic Primary: The Result of an E-Voting Malfunction?
June 15, 2010 § 1 Comment
Alvin Greene’s recent victory in South Carolina’s Democratic Senate primary has lots of people wondering how a relative unknown who did not campaign could win sixty percent of the vote against a four-term state senator. Although plenty of theories have surfaced—that it was because his name was first on the ballot, that his name reminded people of soul legend Al Green, that it was all a Republican plot—one possibility is harder to refute than it ought to be: problems with the electronic voting machines.
Greene’s primary opponent, Vic Rawl, has now publicly pointed a finger at the voting machines (by the way, if Alvin Greene got the Al Green votes, why didn’t Vic Rawl get the Lou Rawls votes? Someone needs to investigate this soul singer gap). Columbia’s WTLX.com quotes Rawl as saying, “It appears to me that we have some sort of either machine malfunction or software malfunction.” Rawls also said he had no idea whether the malfunction was accidental or intentional. South Carolina’s election commission responded that it was “confident in the accuracy and reliability” of the voting machines.
It’s hard to know if that confidence is well-placed, however. South Carolina uses ES&S iVotronic voting machines, which have a history of accuracy and reliability issues. Newer versions support voter-verified paper audit trail, but it’s unclear whether South Carolina uses that feature. The elections commission said that every vote was recorded and left a paper trail, but its web page describing the process of voting with the machines says nothing about the voter verifying his or her vote against a paper record. The “paper trail” the commission talks about could be a paper record of every vote that was cast, verified by each voter; or it could be summary totals. It’s hard to tell from news reports.
If there is a good, voter-verified paper trail, machine malfunction (or tampering) is relatively easy to detect and correct. Just count the paper ballots. If there is no paper trail, or if the “paper trail” is merely a set of summary statistics, it’s impossible to know if the result is accurate.
Minnesota is one of twenty-two states that require voter-verifiable paper ballots. South Carolina is not. Minnesota law requires more than just a paper trail, however. By statute, all voting systems purchased after 2005 must be paper-based. According to that statute, voting machines must either scan marked paper ballots, or assist voters in marking those paper ballots.
If the Greene-Rawl primary had been held in Minnesota, the voting machines could quickly be eliminated as a source of the unexpected result. As it is, it may be impossible to know if Mr. Greene’s primary victory was influenced by voting machine irregularities.