All About Our Danaher Voting System
Over the past decade, Bucks County voters have experienced this:
You push aside the big curtain and step up to our Direct Record Electronic (DRE) machine and confront the big face ballot of voting choices and buttons to select them. Is it kind of dark in there? Can you see or reach all the selections? Isn’t that print on the ballot kind of tiny? Was that button supposed to light up or go out?
If you decide to vote straight party (all Republican or Democrat), be careful if you change your mind at some point, because if you press something else, all your choices will de-select and won’t count unless you notice what happened and correct it.
Attempting a write-in vote can be a real challenge: First locate the correct button to push, then find that little window to write in, way up high, that can fight your efforts to close when you’re done, unless it just jams.
photo from www.VerifiedVoting.org
But, at last, you’re pretty sure you’ve made all your selections and now push the big green VOTE button at the bottom (if your child “helping” you in the voting booth didn’t already push it before you were finished; if so, you’re out of luck!). Did the Danaher register your vote the way you intended? The dilemma is, how do you know?
The Problems, From the Beginning
Obviously, the fact that DREs can’t be audited or proven accurate automatically makes them a terrible option for elections. Even so, our Danahers have other traits that compound our situation. A brief look at their history and the circumstances of how we got them illustrate this.
Patents for our voting machine were filed in 1984 by the R.F. Shoup Corporation, headquartered in Bryn Mawr, PA and was initially called the “Shouptronic.” By 1993, there were 11,000 machines in use. Over the years, the rights to this machine were transferred to Guardian Voting Systems, a division of Danaher Controls. It was renamed the “ELECTronic 1242,” but remains basically the same 1984 machine.
Jurisdictions nationwide discovered there were many problems with these machines. The biggest example happened in New Mexico, in the 2004 Presidential election, when they discovered an inexplicably high rate of undervotes on the Danaher machines (people go to the polls to cast a ballot but don't vote in every race or vote for fewer than maximum allowed for a position), as well as phantom votes (more recorded votes than ballots cast). See report HERE. Governor Bill Richardson threw out the DRE voting systems and all of New Mexico went to voter-marked, paper-ballot systems.
The Verified Voting website offers a wealth of information about all things election related. Check this link out if you’d like to learn more about our DREs, pertinent facts about its history, how it works (or doesn’t), features and news items.
The Big Decision
In spite of education efforts by the Coalition for Voting Integrity (CVI) and huge public outcry, our Bucks County Commissioners still proceeded to purchase the Danaher voting machines in 2006 for $5 million ($3 million with HAVA funds). A newspaper account of the day of their decision is HERE. In this article, the commissioners incorrectly assert they needed a system that would alert voters of undervotes, which the Danaher obviously does not, so one of their own reasons to justify their choice was incorrect; HAVA actually requires that no overvotes by allowed. A paper ballot/optical scan system could have alerted voters of both situations.
We may never understand for sure why two commissioners, Jim Cawley and Charlie Martin, chose an unverifiable DRE system over a verifiable system, consistently defending their choice with reasons that fly in the face of facts and common sense. They claimed to base much of their decision on the recommendations of a “working group” of county officials. To us, it felt like they fit their “facts” to justify a predetermined outcome. You can read that report, and commentary about it in red by former CVI member/current SAVE Bucks Votes member Janis Hobbs-Pellechio HERE.
So in 2006, they purchased about 300 allegedly-new machines and over 400 “reconditioned” machines (at $6200 each), but we found it highly unlikely that any of those machines were new. We suspect at best, they were all reconditioned or used. They were already older technology and being discarded and replaced by paper-based machines all around the country. CVI even purchased a Danaher machine in 2007 at a Tennessee auction for about $25 and donated it to Lehigh University for the computer scientists to take apart and study. Read a recent article by Prof. Dan Lopresti about his concerns.
Aging Voting System
This Danaher system was designed and manufactured decades ago. We suspect many of the parts are getting harder to find, such as older-style memory cartridges that have been described as fragile. We know that the state of Delaware, which has used these machines since 1995, is now in the process of replacing them with voter-marked, paper-ballot systems. Reasons given by top election officials are they are at the end of their lifecycle, and the software to produce the ballot is no longer supported by Windows. Bucks County must surely be dealing with the same issues!
An excellent report, “America’s Voting Machines At Risk,” by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, is a must-read to understand what we and many jurisdictions are facing as our voting systems age. In fact, their whole website is a treasure-trove of great information, and highly recommended.
So, the fact that we have an aging system that can’t be proven secure or accurate makes getting a voter-marked, paper-based (VMPB) system a no-brainer. Bucks County should be leading the way, as part of an important swing state and ground zero for the birth of our democracy.
Don’t we deserve much better?
"In science, computing, and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and output without any knowledge of its internal workings."