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Open Source Program Reveals Diebold Bug 175

Posted by timothy
from the rabble-rousin'-ne'er-do-well dept.
Mitch Trachtenberg writes "Ballot Browser, an open source Python program developed by Mitch Trachtenberg (yours truly) as part of the all-volunteer Humboldt County Election Transparency Project, was instrumental in revealing that Diebold counting software had dropped 197 ballots from Humboldt County, California's official election results. Despite a top-to-bottom review by the California Secretary of State's office, it appears that Diebold had not informed that office of the four-year-old bug. The Transparency Project has sites at and" Trachtenberg also points to his blog for the Transparency Project, and his own essay about the discovery and the process that led to it.
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Open Source Program Reveals Diebold Bug

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  • by theaveng (1243528) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:24AM (#26110297)

    If you read the article, they were Not pressing buttons. This was a paper-and-pen method followed by a scanning machine. The scanning machine was dropping ballots for some unknown reason.

  • by liquidpele (663430) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:28AM (#26110309) Journal
    It's a little more complicated than that...

    Premier told her the problem wasn't her but its Global Election Management System software (also known as GEMS) which is used to tabulate votes from all of the company's voting systems -- optical-scan machines as well as touch-screen machines.

    Premier explained that due to a programming problem, the first "deck" or batch of ballots that are counted by the GEMS software sometimes gets randomly deleted if any subsequent deck is intentionally deleted. The GEMS system names the first deck of ballots "deck 0", with subsequent batches called "deck 1," "deck 2," etc. For some reason "deck 0" is sometimes erased from the system if any other deck is erased. Since it's common for officials to intentionally erase a deck in the normal counting process if they've made an error and want to rescan a deck, the chance that a GEMS system containing this flaw will delete a batch of ballots is pretty high.

    Yes, this looks ridiculous considering it's a voting machine, but to me it looks like a pretty normal software bug. I've seen far worse things get paste a full blown QA team.

  • by nabsltd (1313397) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:39AM (#26110355)

    The point is that the machine failed at identifying the ballots, not just identifying votes.

    I can see that optical scanning might have issues, but then the counting machine needs to spit out the "bad" ballot into a different pile so that it can be manually checked. The machine failed to do this.

  • by iammani (1392285) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @09:58AM (#26110445)

    A very small percentage.

    ... Assuming that there were no further bugs.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @10:57AM (#26110715)

    The fact that we are being asked to swallow this is disgusting.

    Thats what my ex used to say.

  • Re:First Post (Score:4, Informative)

    by cathector (972646) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @12:21PM (#26111113)

    on the off chance you're actually after an answer to the question in your .sig, the reason is that irregular forms such as -en simply die out when a generation of speakers rarely hears and uses the past-tense of a particular word, and so when it finally comes time for an individual to use the past-tense and they've never heard it, they just apply the regular rule of adding -ed. so a corollary would be that the past-tense of "prove" is being used less frequently than it was in previous times.

    words and rules [] by steven pinker is an entire book about irregular verbs, and i believe has a sentence or two about proven/proved. he definitely has many paragraphs, possibly a chapter, on the -en / -ed deal. he also talks a bit about why irregular forms persist over time. he also has some serious pedantic axes to grind.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @01:43PM (#26111663) Journal

    The point is that the machine failed at identifying the ballots, not just identifying votes.

    Not true. The machine counted the ballots and then later, the software deleted them along with any record that they ever existed. []

  • by User0x45 (530857) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @04:24PM (#26112679) Homepage

    Close, but just to be clear.

    > just have the machine produce a printout
    > which the individual voter can verify,
    > then in case of doubt you can always
    > resort to a manual count.

    The DRE interface is good to use in making selections in an election. A machine prints or punches or otherwise indicates the voters intent on a piece of paper (a paper ballot). The voter holds it, looks at it, and confirms it is a proper rendering of their vote. Then they take their paper ballot and walk away from the DRE. The DRE holds no more information than a stapler holds after having stapled documents together.

    The piece of paper (ballot) is carried over somewhere else and is OCR'd, or manually counted, or whatever. The DRE isn't a part of counting votes. Only the paper ballots, verified by the voter, are sources for counting results. We can machine count the ballots, hand count, whatever.

    DREs are great interface, and machines can print/punch out beautiful accurate paper ballots that are free from extraneous marks and outside the line marks etc. But once it is in the voters hand, and the voter looks and approves of it, the paper ballot is the only data source.

    Not 'voter verified paper trail receipts' it must be 'voter verified paper ballots'.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:55PM (#26124295)

    I voted on an elctronic machine. It printed out all my choices, then asked me to confirm they were correct. When I went to confirm, the screen went all read with an error message.

    I wasn't sure that it ever printed out whatever was required to make my ballot official. The inked confirmation. It just scrolled the paper off the "screen" for the next vote to begin.

    I called over the election official, who noted the red screen. He shrugged his sholders, then pushed some button on the back of the machine to eject my smart card, and reboot the machine. The machine wouldn't accept the card back, stating it had already been used. The official claimed this was proof that my vote had been successful.

    I didn't accept this and demanded proof that my vote had actually been recorded. Of course the official was unable to provide that proof, even with a paper trail inside the machine. There was no way any election official was going to crack open the paper roll and show me the last ballot printed on it. It makes sense that they would not compromise the entire roll in this way.

    They phoned the county registrar, who agreed that my vote could not be guaranteed. Naturally, I could not be allowed to vote again if I had already voted. There was no way to invalidate the vote if it had somehow been good. So, I had to just leave without anyone knowing if I had voted or not.

    The paper trail inside the machine did not protect my franchise. No recount after the fact will protect my franchise either.

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