Uncounted votes in NC, programming error

Today’s news of e-voting malfunction underscores my previous point about complexity of voting systems. This time, about 4000 ballots went uncounted in North Carolina’s election this week. (More details in the full story from Eastern North Carolina Today.) Its seems that the counting error resulted from a tabulation machine breaking, followed by county election officials making some errors with manual intervention in the counting process. (Before calling it "operator error" I have to wonder whether the product documentation included an account of this failure mode and what the proper response is.)

Detailed accounts vary, some pointing to problematic memory cards. One other I have to quote (unconfirmed alas) for oddity value: "A floppy disk that compiles voting data from the counting machines was programmed incorrectly, said Kim Strach, a deputy director with the state Board of Elections." In any case, it certainly seems like another case of unreliable computers being overly complex and apt to misuse by mere human operators.

The charming part of this story, though, is who and how the descepancy was discovered. A public spirited fellow was poring over the detailed vote counts, and noticed one district being much more populous than another, yet having markedly fewer ballots, and filed a complaint. The cute bit: the guy was the winner in one of the under-counted races.


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