Blank Ballots

NY23 Collected Coverage by Northern NY News

Source: Gouverneurtimes.com

Northern NY News
Written by Nathan Barker

Tuesday, 01 December 2009

A Summary of our coverage of the problems and pitfalls in New York's 2009 Special Election.  ImageCast electronic voting machines were used in many districts under a New York State "Pilot Program" causing myriad errors and problems with the election results.  Our exclusive coverage of these issues, in chronological order:

Virus in the Voting Machines: Tainted Results in NY-23 by Nathan Barker

Voting Machines Used were Not Certified by Nathan Barker

Statement from the NYS Board of Elections

Fact Check: The Gouverneur Times vs. NYS Board of Elections

Ghost in the Machine by Scott A. Reddick

Updated December 2nd, 2009: Impossible Numbers Certified in NY-23 by Richard Hayes Phillips Ph.D.

First the Impossible, Now the Improbable in NY-23 by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.

NY-23, Sequoia, and the Private Corporate Takeover of your Once-Public Democracy by Brad Friedman

Letter to the Editor on NY-23 Election Results by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.

December 1st, 2009: Because Your Vote Should Count by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.

December 2nd, 2009: False Vote Counts in Four Counties in NY-23 by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.





NY-23: False Vote Counts in Four Counties

Source: Gouverneurtimes.com

3rd in a series
For related articles, click topic link NY23

Hoffman Votes Switched to Other Candidates

False Vote Counts in Four Counties in NY-23

Northern NY News
by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.
Dec. 3, 2009
  
CANTON, NY – It is now widely known that zero votes were initially reported for Doug Hoffman in numerous election districts in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.  What has not been previously reported is that these votes were shifted to other candidates.  While most of these counts were corrected during recanvassing, they never should have been reported in the first place.

This vote switching is best illustrated in Madison County, where the Board of Elections (to its credit) released, for each election district (or precinct), its preliminary results, before the recanvass, and its final results, as certified to the State.  A comparison of the two reveals what really happened on Election Night.

In the initial vote count, Hoffman got zero votes in three election districts in Madison County.  In Fenner, the count was 157 for Owens, 248 for Scozzafava, and zero for Hoffman.  In Hamilton’s 3rd district, the count was 75 for Owens, 79 for Scozzafava, and zero for Hoffman.  In Sullivan’s 2nd district, the count was 173 for Owens, 251 for Scozzafava, and zero for Hoffman.

Somebody should have noticed this.  On Election Night, Scozzafava was awarded 578 of 983, or 58.8%, of the votes in these three districts, while winning only 583 of 16,770, or 3.5%, of the votes in the rest of the county.  This illustrates perfectly why election results need to be released at the precinct or district level.

These numbers were corrected during recanvassing of the results, and absentee ballots have since been added to the totals.  In Fenner, the certified count is 159 for Owens, 242 for Hoffman, and 21 for Scozzafava.  In Hamilton’s 3rd district, the certified count is 76 for Owens, 77 for Hoffman, and 4 for Scozzafava.  In Sullivan’s 2nd district, the certified count is 174 for Owens, 250 for Hoffman, and 11 for Scozzafava.  This amounts to a gain of 4 votes for Owens, a gain of 569 votes for Hoffman, and a net loss of 542 votes for Scozzafava.

Vote Counts Were Switched

The Board of Elections has attributed the false initial numbers to human error.  Poll workers mistakenly read the wrong line on the computer tape, or so the story goes.  But votes were not only denied to Hoffman; they were delivered to Scozzafava.  What obviously happened is that vote counts were switched.  Hoffman’s tallies on the Conservative Party line were given to Scozzafava, and Scozzafava’s tallies on the Independence Party line were given to Hoffman.  If all of Scozzafava’s 36 rightful votes in these three districts were on the Republican Party line, the result would be false tallies of zero votes for Hoffman.

Thus, for the “human error” explanation to be true, poll workers in three different polling places must have made the same two mistakes.

Also in Madison County there were two other districts with egregious errors that somebody should have noticed:

    * In Nelson’s 1st district, Hoffman was awarded 100 extra votes on Election Night.  This is obvious because, after the counting of absentee ballots, Hoffman’s count has decreased by 93 votes; and because the revised total of 336 votes counted for Congress more closely resembles the other contests in this district, the next highest number of votes counted being 333 votes for County Sheriff.  Unfortunately, the numbers for “blank” ballots are not reported, so we have no way of knowing the number of actual voters without auditing the poll books and the absentee voter lists.

    * In Georgetown, all the votes were double-counted on Election Night.  This is obvious because the initial count was 178 for Owens, 28 for Scozzafava, and 284 for Hoffman; and the certified count is 91 for Owens, 16 for Scozzafava, and 149 for Hoffman.  If the initial count is divided in half and subtracted from the certified count, the remainder represents the absentee ballots: 2 for Owens, 2 for Scozzafava, and 7 for Hoffman.  By comparison, the certified count is 256 votes for Congress, and 260 for County Sheriff.

Countywide, the initial count for Madison County, reported on the morning after the election by the Watertown Daily Times, was 7743 for Owens, 8110 for Hoffman, and 1128 for Scozzafava.  With corrections and adjustments made, and absentee ballots counted, the final (certified) count is now 8290 for Owens, 9155 for Hoffman, and 724 for Scozzafava.  Thus, Hoffman’s lead of 367 votes on Election Night has grown to 865 votes – a net gain of 498.

For Oneida County, at 11:50 P.M. on Election Night, the Albany Times-Union posted these vote tallies: 3510 for Owens, 2432 for Hoffman, and 274 for Scozzafava.  Owens was reportedly winning Oneida County by 1078 votes, with 56% of the total.  The next morning, the Watertown Daily Times reported very different numbers: 2024 for Owens, 2779 for Hoffman, and 362 for Scozzafava.  Owens was now losing Oneida County by 755 votes, with only 39% of the total.  This represents an overnight reversal of 1833 votes.  But by that time, Hoffman had already conceded the election.

Preliminary precinct results obtained a few days after the election contained no votes from Lee’s 2nd and 5th districts.  The partial results from elsewhere in the county match what was reported in the Watertown Daily Times, so these were the only two districts not reporting.

But even the corrected partial results were incorrect.  In Camden’s 2nd district, the Board of Elections was still reporting 100 (74%) for Owens, 23 (17%) for Scozzafava, and 12 (9%) for Hoffman.  Somebody should have noticed this.  By comparison, Hoffman’s lowest percentage anywhere else in the county was 43% in Boonville’s 4th district.  In Camden’s other two districts, Hoffman received 66% and 67% of the vote. 

Vote-Switching Methodology

The Camden example demonstrates clearly the methodology for vote switching.  Hoffman was awarded 12 votes, not zero.  These votes had to come from somewhere.  The simplest explanation is that Hoffman’s tally on the Conservative Party line was given to Owens, and Owens’ tally on the Working Families Party line was given to Hoffman, who suffered a net loss of at least 75 votes.  If these votes were shifted not to Scozzafava but to Owens, the other leading candidate, the margin was affected by 150 votes.

Whether these numbers from Camden’s 2nd district have been corrected is not certain, because Oneida County has not released its final precinct results.  The final countywide results show 2243 for Owens, 3225 for Hoffman, and 459 for Scozzafava, which represent, since the corrected partial results reported the morning after the election, gains of 219 votes for Owens, 446 votes for Hoffman, and 97 votes for Scozzafava.  Either way, Hoffman’s countywide percentage has grown from 39% on Election Night to 54% today.

The Oneida County Board of Elections has confirmed that optical scanners were used only in the Town of Marcy.  Lever machines were used elsewhere.  Thus it seems likely that the numbers from Camden’s 2nd district would have been corrected during recanvassing, because the true ballot positions that correspond with the vote tallies are plainly visible on a lever machine.

In Jefferson County, Sean M. Hennessey, Democratic elections commissioner, said that poll inspectors in four districts reported that Hoffman had received zero votes after inadvertently reading the wrong line of the poll system’s printout.  Hennessey said that results in some other districts were either incorrectly relayed by the poll worker or incorrectly typed by the part-time staff answering phones at the Jefferson County Board of Elections office.
_________________________________________
'Altogether, vote switching in four counties
altered the reported margin between Owens and Hoffman by an estimated 2,650 votes.
And this is only what we know about. . . .

With concealed electronic vote counting, partial shifts of the vote count
could occur without a trace, and not be readily apparent in the election results. 
And yet the New York State Board of Elections is expected to certify these election results
and the untrustworthy machines that produced them.'
_________________________________________
 
Jefferson County election officials blamed the mistakes on “chaos” in their call-in center, and on inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when reporting results over the phone.  “The machines were not at fault,” said Jerry O. Eaton, Republican elections commissioner for Jefferson County.  “It’s all human error that happens every election.”  Jefferson County has not conducted a hand count of the paper ballots from the election districts where the zero vote counts were reported.

The initial vote count reported in the Watertown Daily Times was 9996 for Owens, 9439 for Hoffman, and 1155 for Scozzafava.  By the time the Jefferson County Board of Elections provided its preliminary precinct results to one of the involved campaigns, three days after the election, the zero vote counts had been corrected in all four districts.  The corrected preliminary results were 10,238 for Owens, 10,358 for Hoffman, and 1179 for Scozzafava.  This represented net gains of 242 votes for Owens, 919 for Hoffman, and 24 for Scozzafava, and a change of 677 votes in the countywide margin.  The combined increase of 1185 votes (5.8%) indicates that not all districts had reported their results when the Watertown Daily Times went to press, and suggests that vote shifting had altered the margin by about 640 votes.  But more importantly, the ratio of the newly counted votes (Hoffman got 78% of them, Owens 20%, and Scozzafava 2%) indicates that, in the four districts with the zero vote counts, most of Hoffman’s votes had gone to Owens.  The “tally sheets” from these four election districts should tell the tale.

But even the corrected preliminary results were not correct.

First the Impossible, Now the Improbable, in NY-23

Source: Gouverneurtimes.com

2nd in a series
Click NY23 tag to see all related stories.

First the Impossible, Now the Improbable, in NY-23

Northern NY News
by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.  
Friday, 27 November 2009 12:14

Editor's Note: Based on additional information provided by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections, Dr. Phillips revised this article to improve clarity and accuracy.

CANTON, NY – As reported last week, impossible numbers were found in the St. Lawrence County election results for the special election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District.  Ninety-three (93) “phantom votes,” more votes counted than the number of ballots cast, were reported in six election districts, and negative numbers reported for the “blank ballots,” or “undervotes.”

These were not the certified results.  The author deeply regrets having said that they were.  The numbers, which the Board of Elections attributes to data entry errors, have since been corrected.  However, scrutiny of the certified election results reveals numerous districts (precincts) where the results, although not always mathematically impossible, are not credible.
______________________________________
'The court-ordered 'pilot' election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District was an utter failure . .

. . . the time-tested lever machines were much more reliable.'
______________________________________

On Friday, November 6, three days after the election, one of the involved campaigns obtained from the Board of Elections a spreadsheet of the preliminary (unofficial) election results, precinct by precinct.  Absentee ballots had not yet been counted.  This serves as an important “snapshot” with which to compare the final (certified) results.

Onondaga-scannerAs previously reported, voting machine failures at eight polling places in St. Lawrence County caused the Board of Elections to hand count those ballots.  Realistically, there was no other choice but to do so.  According to the Board, the locked voting machines were transported to a warehouse in Canton where the ballots were counted by hand.  The problem with this procedure is that it is illegal under § 9-100 of New York State Election Law, which requires that the votes be counted at the polling place:
§ 9-100  At the close of the polls the inspectors of election shall, in the order set forth herein, lock the machine against voting, account for the paper ballots, canvass the machine, cast and canvass all the ballots, canvass and ascertain the total vote and they shall not adjourn until the canvass be fully completed.

Onondaga County optical scanner

An audit of the poll books and absentee voter lists for three of these eight polling places reveals that the preliminary hand count could not have been correct. In Louisville, there were 885 actual voters at the polls, but only 691 votes were counted for Congress on Election Night.  In Waddington, there were 754 actual voters at the polls, but only 347 votes were counted for Congress on Election Night.  In Rossie, there were 138 actual voters at the polls, but only 94 votes were counted for Congress on Election Night.  53 votes were counted later.  Bill Owens got 50 of them.


Ballots Should Be Counted in Public

One possible reason for the short counts on Election Night is that the Sequoia/Dominion ImageCast machines have two slots and two bins for ballots.  There is a slot which sucks a ballot into the optical scanner, much like a dollar bill is sucked into a vending machine, and after the ballot is scanned it drops into a locked box.  There is another slot in the front of the machine which can be opened when the scanner breaks down and emergency paper ballots need to be segregated and counted by hand; these ballots drop into a separate locked box.  It is possible that the Board of Elections initially counted the ballots from one box but not the other.  But this is precisely why § 9-102.3(b) of New York State Election Law requires that the ballots be counted in public at the polling place, and why § 9-108.1 requires that the number of ballots be cross-checked with the poll books to be sure that all the ballots have been counted.

§ 9-102.3(b)  Paper ballots and emergency ballots cast during voting machine breakdowns which have been voted shall then be canvassed and tallied, the vote thereon for each candidate and ballot proposal, announced and added to the vote as recorded on the return of canvass.

§ 9-108.1  The board of inspectors, at the beginning of the canvass, shall count the ballots found in each ballot box without unfolding them, except so far as to ascertain that each ballot is single, and shall compare the number of ballots found in each box with the number shown by the registration poll records, and the ballot returns to have been deposited therein.

Another problem with these voting machines is that it is mechanically possible to open both ballot slots, and both locked boxes, even while the optical scanner is operating.  This opens the possibility that ballots could be deposited into the wrong ballot box, inadvertently or deliberately, and never be counted.  An eyewitness who voted at the only polling place in Russell told me that she was not allowed to place her own ballot in the machine; a poll worker examined her ballot and placed it into the machine for her.  This caused her to be concerned about both the privacy of her vote and the security of the vote count.

Blank Ballots Beyond Belief

As previously reported, the number of “blank” ballots, or “undervotes,” is calculated by subtracting the number of votes counted for a given office from the total number of ballots cast.  In the Congressional race, the highest percentage of “blank” ballots anywhere in St. Lawrence County was in Russell’s 2nd district.  According to the poll book there were 590 actual voters at the polls, and there were 11 absentee ballots, for a total of 601, in Russell’s 1st and 2nd districts combined.  According to the certified results there were 338 ballots cast, of which 23 (6.8%) were blank, in the 1st district, and 262 ballots cast, of which 27 (10.3%) were blank, in the 2nd district.  It is highly unlikely that 10.3% of the voters made no choice among three candidates in one of the most hotly contested races in the nation.
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