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Evidence presented in New Jersey e-voting discrepancies

Printed voting audits may help to detect fraud--unless the vendor offers a good excuse.

Despite the threat of legal action by one voting machine vendor, Princeton University professor Ed Felten is continuing his independent investigation of perceived irregularities in New Jersey's February 5, 2008 presidential primary election. On Friday, a New Jersey state judge ruled that voting rights activists will also have the right to have their own independent expert examine the state's electronic voting machines.

The question is integrity. What Felten has found so far isn't enough to change the election results, but evidence presented on his blog site suggests there might be enough to undermine our confidence in the electronic system as it stands. Various county clerks in New Jersey who perceive the February counts as being off have supplied Felten with voting machines and paper audits. Sequoia Voting Systems, which produces most of the voting machines in New Jersey, has threatened legal action against Felten and his team if they pursue an independent investigation. Sequoia has said it would appoint its own team of investigators.

The threats haven't stopped Felten.

On March 19, Felten wrote that the "opinion switch," meaning the number of times the ballot was changed to Democrat or Republican, didn't add up to the total votes cast for each party. In this case, there was always one extra vote.

On March 20, Felten posted Sequoia's response. In part, the vendor said that "we have found that when a poll worker selects the lower of the two assigned selection codes, followed by pressing an unused selection code and then pressing the green 'Activate' button, the higher numbered party on the operator panel has its contests activated instead while the selection code button for the original party stays active on the operator panel."

From this, Felten concludes that Sequoia made an engineering error because "no competent engineer would design this system to ever activate the Republican ballot when the poll worker had pressed the DEM button but had not pressed the REP button." Also, "Sequoia's explanation involves a voter seeing the wrong party's ballot being activated, and not complaining about it," he said.

Felten said he found evidence that could support Sequoia's claim; although the vote totals exceeded the voter turnout in one party, they were made up for in the under-reporting in the other party. However, on April 4, 2008 Felten found instatances where the overall votes cast are inconsistent with the explanation provided by Sequioa.

One week later, on April 11, the New Jersey Secretary of State, who must certify all election results, said that the tapes were misread because they were unreadable. So last week, on April 23, 2008, Felten published more examples, clearly showing the same discrepancies.

Paper trail audits have been suggested at both RSA and Shmoocon as valid procedures for certifying the final vote.

Friday's decision to allow an independent expert to examine the systems in addition to Felten's own work could shed more light on the discrepancies.