As I wrote last week, malfunctioning voting machines are one of the two plausible theories that could explain the mysterious undervotes in Sarasota’s congressional race. To get a better idea of whether malfunctions could be the culprit, we would have to investigate – to inspect the machines and their software for any relevant errors in design or operation. A well-functioning electoral system ought to be able to do such investigations in an open and thorough manner.
Two attempts have been made to investigate. The first was by representatives of Christine Jennings (the officially losing candidate) and a group of voters, who filed lawsuits challenging the election results and asked, as part of the suits’ discovery process, for access by their experts to the machines and their code. The judge denied their request, in a curious order that seemed to imply that they would first have to prove that there was probably a malfunction before they could be granted access to the evidence needed to tell whether there was a malfunction.
The second attempt was by the Department of State (DOS) of the state of Florida, who commissioned a study by outside experts. Oddly, I am listed in the official Statement of Work (SOW) as a principal investigator on the study team, even though I am not a member of the team. Many people have asked how this happened. The short answer is that I discussed with representatives of DOS the possibility of participating, but eventually it became clear that the study they wanted to commission was far from the complete, independent study I had initially thought they wanted.
The biggest limitation on the study is that DOS is withholding information and resources needed for a complete study. Most notably, they are not providing access to voting machines. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that if you want to understand the behavior of voting machines, it helps to have a voting machine to examine. DOS could have provided or facilitated access to a machine, but it apparently chose not to do so. [Correction (Feb. 28): The team’s final report revealed that DOS had changed its mind and given the team access to voting machines.] The Statement of Work is clear that the study is to be “a … static software analysis on the iVotronics version 126.96.36.199 firmware source code”.
(In computer science, “static” analysis of software refers to methods that examine the text of the software; “dynamic” methods observe and measure the software while it is running.)
The good news is that the team doing the study is very strong technically, so there is some hope of a useful result despite the limited scope of the inquiry. There have been some accusations of political bias against team members, but knowing several members of the team I am confident that these charges are misguided and the team won’t be swayed by partisan politics. The limits on the study aren’t coming from the team itself.
The results of the DOS-sponsored study should be published sometime in the next few months.
What we have not seen, and probably won’t, is a full, independent study of the iVotronic machines. The voters of Sarasota County – and everyone who votes on paperless machines – are entitled to a comprehensive study of what happened. Sadly, it looks like lawyers and politics will stop that from happening.