Election Law @ Moritz

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Edward B. Foley
Free & Fair is a collection of writings by Edward B. Foley, one of the nation's preeminent experts on election law.

Information and Analysis

FL-13 Update: 12/05/06

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December 5, 2006

Following the first phase of the Florida state audit of voting machines used in the FL-13 congressional race, the next phase will involve auditing the internal computer source codes of the voting machines. These computer source codes tell the touch-screen voting machines how to run, and may be able to identify any software problems responsible for what, if anything, went wrong on Nov. 7. Although the source code analysis has not yet started, it is already generating controversy. The controversy stems from the state of Florida's choice of personnel to head the source code review. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reports that the Florida Division of Elections' top choice for heading the review is Florida State University associate computer science professor Alec Yasinsac, an "outspoken Republican who has advocated paperless voting machines in the past." Democrats and voting rights activists charge that Yasinsac is too partisan to conduct an objective investigation.

Regardless of who is chosen to oversee the source code review, this next phase of the state audit will be highly technical and time consuming. The purpose of the source code review is to determine if the machines were programmed in a way that altered what voters saw on the touch-screen or how their votes were recorded. This week, state elections officials will begin to look at the machines' software to make sure it exactly matches the software that the manufacturer, Electronic Systems and Software, certified with the state Division of Elections. It is difficult to determine what this process will entail, since ES&S has stated that their source code process is a trade secret and copyrighted. Following the source code match, state auditors will then examine the machines' memory files. These files contain memory cards that record votes and events, such as when a ballot is cast. State officials expect expect that the source code review will be one of the most time-consuming aspects of the audit, but expect "nothing" to be revealed from it.

The source code review will take place in Tallahassee, but the start date is unclear. In the meantime, state elections officials plan to review the results of the "mock election" conducted last week. Over 120 hours of video recordings were taken during two simulated elections held last week to test for possible voting machine malfunction. Though preliminary results of the "mock election" tests found no sign of computer malfunction, this may not be an indication of a flawless election. The results of the internal software review may reveal systems discrepancies that were previously undetectable.

Reported by Debra Milberg, Moritz Class of 2008