Premier Elections Goes to CA Hearing Over "Zero Deck" Failure

Findings Could Result in Vendor Decertification

Today (March 17) the Office of Secretary of State, California, held a voting systems review hearing on the "Zero-Deck Anomaly" of  the Premier (formerly Diebold) Elections System Ver. 1.18.19, a known flaw that can (and has) resulted in the erasure of votes without leaving any trace of miscount in the voting system's audit log.

The disappearance of 197 votes from Humboldt County election results in the November 2008 presidential election was discovered only through the monitoring effort of a local citizen group, the Humboldt Election Transparency Project (HETP), using a ballot-imaging scanner that made a separate record of the ballots available for independent citizen review.

This instance of the "Zero Deck" failure illustrates a fundamental problem with electronic voting systems in general: Namely, the poor-to- nonexistent quality assurance provided by the federal voting machine certification process. The programming flaw in the GEMS ver. 1.18.19 voting system evaded detection in all federal and state certification reviews. The software remains widely in use by electoral jurisdictions throughout the U.S.

'These standards would have required failure of the voting system containing the GEMS version 1.18.19 software had the flaws found in this investigation been identified and reported by the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) that performed the federal testing. . . .
The ITA testing of the system discovered no such flaws. The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) approved GEMS version 1.18.19 in three voting system configurations between February 2004 and September 2004.'

-- Staff Report of the Secretary of State Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment

At today's hearing, citizens opposed to the continued use of Premier Election Systems in California, testified for the public record, calling for the decertification of Premier voting systems.

Under the California Election Code, the secretary of state has the authority to decertify a voting system "if the Secretary determines that the system is defective or unacceptable." The secretary also has the authority to completely ban an E-voting vendor from doing business in the state for repeated failure to comply with election laws or meet minimal performance and reliability standards.

The secretary of state is expected to issue a finding within a matter of weeks that will determine the future of Premier Election Systems in California.

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CA Elections Division Staff Report

DIEBOLD/PREMIER GEMS VERSION 1.18.19
Premier Election Solutions’ Global Election Management System (GEMS)
Software Version 1.18.19

Staff Report Prepared by: Secretary of State Office of Voting Systems Technology Assessment
March 13, 2009

I. Investigation & Findings

The attached California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s Report to the Election Assistance Commission Concerning Errors and Deficiencies in Diebold/Premier GEMS Version 1.18.19 (“Report”) identifies software flaws in the GEMS version 1.18.19 software that led Humboldt County to initially inaccurately certify results (which were subsequently corrected) for the November 4, 2008, General Election.

The flaws also led to inaccurate or missing audit trail information that was pertinent to the investigation into the cause of the inaccurate results. The Secretary of State’s investigation identified the following errors and deficiencies in GEMS version 1.18.19, all of which are discussed in the Report:

1. The “Deck 0” software error caused the deletion of 197 tallied ballots.
2. GEMS version 1.18.19 audit logs fail to record important events.
3. “Clear” buttons on the GEMS Poster Log and Central Count Log permit deletion of important audit records.
4. Date and time stamp on audit trail entries are inaccurate.

 II. Adherence to State & Federal Requirements

A. Federal Standards

As described in the Report, the investigation identified multiple failures to adhere to the 1990 Performance and Test Standards for Punchcard, Marksense, and Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems, the federal voting system standards that the GEMS version 1.18.19 software was required to meet.

These standards would have required failure of the voting system containing the GEMS version 1.18.19 software had the flaws found in this investigation been identified and reported by the Independent Testing Authority (ITA) that performed the federal testing.

The ITA testing of the system discovered no such flaws. The National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) approved GEMS version 1.18.19 in three voting system configurations between February 2004 and September 2004.

B. State Testing and Review

The California Secretary of State’s office tested the three voting system configurations that include GEMS version 1.18.19 in June 2004, July 2004 and September 2004, respectively. The testing did not detect the “Deck 0”or audit trail problems. Between August 2004 and October 2004, the systems were approved for sale and use in California.

This Secretary of State investigation falls under the purview of California Elections Code section 19222, which states:

The Secretary of State shall review voting systems periodically to determine if they are defective, obsolete, or otherwise unacceptable. The Secretary of State has the right to withdraw his or her approval previously granted under this chapter of any voting system or part of a voting system should it be defective or prove unacceptable after such review. Six months’ notice shall be given before withdrawing approval unless the Secretary of State for good cause shown makes a determination that a shorter notice period is necessary. Any withdrawal by the Secretary of State of his or her previous approval of a voting system or part of a voting system shall not be effective as to any election conducted within six months of that withdrawal.

III. Conclusion

Elections Code section 19222 authorizes the Secretary of State to withdraw approval for use of any voting system if the Secretary determines that the system is defective or unacceptable. In the event the Secretary decides that withdrawal of approval is appropriate, the minimum period provided by statute before that decision could take effect is six months.

Download this Report

Download Hearing Agenda



 Related Documents from the Office of California Secretary of State

Public Announcements and Hearings

Premier (formerly Diebold) GEMS 1.18.19 (Humboldt Deck 0 Anomaly)

    * Public Hearing Agenda - March 17, 2009
             Staff Report - March 13, 2009 (.pdf, 19 KB)
             Secretary of State Debra Bowen's Report to the Election Assistance Commission - March 2, 2009 (.pdf, 154 KB)
             Letter to Election Assistance Commission Chairwoman Gineen Beach - March 2, 2009 (.pdf, 26 KB)
             Response from Election Assistance Commission Chairwoman Gineen Beach - March 10, 2009 (.pdf, 60 KB)
             Election Assistance Commission Voting System Testing and Certification Manual
             Public Hearing Notice - February 11, 2009 (.pdf, 87 KB)

Source: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting_systems/hearings.htm


Reporting on March 17 hearing by GovTech Magazine

http://www.govtech.com/gt/627337

Electronic Voting Flaw Eyed by California

Mar 17, 2009

By Matt Williams, Assistant Editor

The California Secretary of State's Office held a public hearing Tuesday to gather testimony about a software flaw in electronic voting systems that erased 197 vote-by-mail ballots in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election in Humboldt County, Calif. The ‘Deck 0" flaw automatically deletes the first batch of tallied votes from optical scan paper ballots after they are scanned into Premier Elections Systems' Global Election Management System (GEMS) version 1.18.19, according to the Secretary of State's Office. (Premier was formerly known as Diebold.)

The Secretary of State's Office also found problems with audit logs of version 1.18.19. It doesn't log important system events, records inaccurate timestamps, and contains a "clear" button that deletes logs.

Justin Bales, western region general manager of Premier, testified Tuesday that 16 California counties are using an updated version that fixes many of those problems. Premier isn't opposed to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertifying the flawed software version, he said. The deletion of ballots was inadvertent and election security is of paramount importance to Premier, Bales said.

Premier issued a workaround for the Deck 0 problem in 2004, but the Humboldt County elections worker who was informed about it left the county prior to the Nov. 4, 2008 election. Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich testified that the county has decided to move to a new vendor for its electronic voting, but will have to use Premier systems for its next election in May.

Crnich and her office oversee an innovative program called the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project that relies upon volunteers to use a high-end scanner in order to produce digital images of all ballots. The images are uploaded to the Internet and are also available on DVD.

Kevin Collins, a volunteer for the transparency project, testified Tuesday that the vote tally inaccuracies in Humboldt County beg the question of many other elections in the U.S. have been unknowingly impacted by flaws in version 1.18.19. The software version is federally and state-certified.

According to California Elections Code, the Secretary of State has the authority to withdraw approval of an electronic voting system if it's defective. The decision would go into effect after a minimum of six months.