Michigan’s election software systems have some room to improve when it comes to catching human errors, experts say after at least two cases of flawed early results reporting on Election Day.
(TNS) — Michigan’s election software systems should be better at catching human error, experts say after at least two cases of flawed early results reporting on
Some Republican leaders point to the errors among several reasons they believe the 2020 election results lack integrity. Meanwhile, state officials assure the public there is nothing to worry about.
These mistakes were exceptions, the result of user error and fail-safes are in place that would have caught the inaccuracies before they were certified anyway,
“The erroneous reporting of unofficial results from
Iowa University Professor
Just after midnight on
“My phone started blowing up with what the heck’s going on in Antrim County,” said Bishop, who lives there. “Your county went blue for Biden.”
“I know this county forward and backwards, and I knew immediately as soon as I looked at the numbers that they were completely inverted,” said Bishop, whose a conservative talk-show host and chair of the
Bishop said he couldn’t reach the Clerk’s Office until the following morning, at which time he notified staff of the suspected error. County election results were removed from the website, recounted and corrected.
Antim County is among 65
“The equipment and software did not malfunction and all ballots were properly tabulated,” the SOS Office said. “However, the clerk accidentally did not update the software used to collect voting machine data and report unofficial results.”
Jones, who’s worked extensively with Dominion machines and software, said “two clerical errors” actually contributed to the problem.
“There was an error earlier in the election process when some candidates (or proposals) were left off some ballots in some precincts in the county," he said. “Of course, that’s a big mistake and they caught it."
The next step was to alter the “configuration files" on the precinct tabulators so they could read ballots and produce the results properly and communicate the results to the computer that compiles unofficial results at the county level.
But not all precinct ballots changed.
“They figured: the ballots in those precincts were OK, so we can leave those scanners without reloading the (new configuration files) because it’s so much work. Well, it turned out that was the mistake."
Jones said each candidate or proposal receives a numerical code that the votes are attached to. When you add a candidate or proposal question, it can shift the code attached to the various candidates. Even though the print-out at the precinct level appeared accurate, the unseen digital data was incorrect, and when it was compiled, the computer couldn’t properly read the results, resulting in jumbled totals.
Once it was realized the totals generated by the county-level software didn’t match the precinct results,
Jones believes this error could have been avoided with better programming by the election software companies.
“Any software that’s used in a clerical environment should have provisions to check its own integrity,” Jones said. If it’s important that the software receive data from a sources that is configured the same way, it’s something the program could check and flag “to make sure they’re not reading nonsense."
Jones said election software often lacks simple integrity checks. For instance, they’re rarely programmed to alert the user if the total number of votes exceeds the precinct turnout or the jurisdiction’s total number of registered voters.
“The software ought to know something about the turnout, independent of the vote totals," Jones said. “If that sum exceeds the turnout for that precinct, then it should be flagged immediately. You shouldn’t wait for somebody to be checking that by eyeball."
Software without simple safety valves to catch expected human errors, “shouldn’t have come to market," according to Jones.
Guy, Antrim County’s clerk, agrees with the SOS that even without the keen eye of people like Bishop or software designed to catch anomalies, there are enough procedural checks and balances to ensure accurate vote totals.
Here’s the process as relayed by several clerks MLive spoke with from various counties:
A voter fills out their ballot and it’s fed into a tabulator machine.
When the polls close, the machine prints off all the collected results, which includes the number of votes for each candidate and proposal.
The tabulator also creates a digital version of the results that is kept on digital tape or something similar to a “thumb drive” used for digital storage.
The precinct chair matches the total number of ballots recorded by the tabulator machine to the number tallied by poll workers.
The results printout is placed in an envelope, the digital recording is sealed in a bag and both are sent to the county clerk.
The county creates a report of unofficial results using the digital data, not the printouts. In the case of
Before a county certifies results, its
The state in 2018 began conducting post-election “risk-limiting" audits that look closely at the accuracy of local elections. These audits, which were expanded statewide in August using a random sampling of ballots from that election, are “designed to catch any errors in the tabulation process and the software process because they essentially confirm that ballots that are voted into machines are accurately counted,” SOS Benson said.
Guy, who is a Republican, insists there was no outside manipulation or fraud that impacted the results in her county.
While Jones sees deficiencies with election software, he recognizes it’s being used in “a human context."
"We have election administrators who are looking at the results and saying, hey, wait a minute, something’s wrong,” Jones said. “So as a whole, the system is working, but it could work better.
“It’s just the software isn’t checking its own sanity well.”
When a sleep-deprived and anxious
Nothing to be alarmed about, said Kochenderfer, an incumbent Republican representing
“There were still six precincts that needed to be reported and I was ahead at the time,” Kochenderfer said. “So I was waiting. At maybe
Kochenderfer expected a close race all along. He then called to congratulate challenger
I received a call the next day, about
“The first time the file was sent, it was sent in error under the title of ‘precinct’ and they should have been sent under title of ‘absentee,’" Barton said. “So it sent, but we didn’t see it populate (under the county results) in absentees, so the file was sent later, again, and it populated absentees as it was supposed to.
“So in essence, the (absentee votes) were counted twice.”
'The ‘system worked’
Barton said the error was initially caught because voter turnout on the county website reflected greater than 100%, an impossibility.
“What’s really important for people to recognize ... is that we’ve always had a canvassing process which always has unofficial results,” Barton said. “Michigan has a lot of great gatekeepers to the process where we can catch things like this before the results are certified.”
Kochenderfer agrees that the “system worked.”
“The error was caught,” he said. "I wasn’t the one who caught it.
“I’m confident that it was simple human error and there was no voter fraud in this instance."
Regarding claims of voter fraud made by Trump and other Republican leaders, Kochenderfer said he’s not heard “any evidence of widespread voter fraud."
“That being said, the Trump campaign has a right to look at the results, to look at the facts,” he said. “If they believe there is evidence of voter fraud, there’s a process for viewing that evidence. I think everybody needs to take a deep breath and let that process play out.”
Barton noted that
Stein filed similar recount requests in
On Friday, during both a press conference in
"We are obviously really concerned with that software being used ... " Cox told Hannity. “We are now checking with all these different counties to make sure there weren’t any other irregularities.
“We’re just concerned about making sure that we are hearing all the information about possible fraud, incompetence or issues with the software that is being used."
Following concerns arising from recounts in 2016, the
“The seller side of the election technology industry has come to be characterized by a consolidated, highly concentrated market dominated by a few major vendors, where industry growth and competition are constrained,” the report said. " For vendors, the process entails substantial investments in direct marketing to election administrators, engagement in lobbying and other political activity, and even the initiation of litigation proceedings over unsuccessful bids."
Other major election technology companies include
The industry is loosely regulated and secretive with its software.
“I’ve always been a little suspicious of the way the election software industry works,” Jones said. "Vendors all sell their software with these non-disclosure agreements and you can’t look at the code at all.
They are protecting intellectual property but are there “really any secrets in this software,” he asked. "What it’s doing is counting one plus one, plus one, plus one.
“I’ve always wondered whether the nondisclosure agreements and intellectual property constraints of the voting system vendors are really serving to protect the public from learning the shoddy quality of the software.”
(c)2020 MLive.com, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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