Report identifies voting problems

After weeks of investigation, a special committee of the D.C. City Council blamed problems in the District primary elections on both the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and Sequoia Voting Systems, the firm that provides the city with its voting machines.

The investigation began after a malfunctioning voting machine and an inordinate amount of phantom write-in votes muddled the Sept. 9 primary election results. The committee, led by Councilwoman Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, issued a report outlining their findings and recommendations, after a hearing in which committee members grilled representatives of Sequoia and the Board.

“Our short-term charge is to ensure that the upcoming November general election produces an accurate and reliable count of all votes,” said Cheh, a GW professor, in a statement. “Our long-term charge is to restore public confidence in our elections process and the people who manage it.”

The committee proposed checks for the Board and Sequoia. They recommended an independent forensic evaluation of the voting machines and greater human involvement in corroborating electronic results.

“The committee is releasing this preliminary report just days after the hearing so that its recommendations may be considered and implemented in time for the general election,” the committee report stated.

The investigation found Sequoia was “too quick to exonerate itself and the equipment used in the tabulation process.” While the Board was too hasty to announce any results before proper verification, Sequoia should have given some indication that one of their faulty voting cartridges could produce erroneous information, according to the report.

Sequoia said human mishandling or an electrostatic discharge caused the cartridge errors. The report called these accounts “technically dubious and self-serving.”

“This investigation was conducted in a very short time to have the recommendations ready for November,” said Asher Corson, Cheh’s communications director. “Despite that, the report has received praise from election experts around the nation.”

Cary Silverman, a GW alumnus who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary in Ward 2 against Councilman Jack Evans, witnessed firsthand how the Board issued discrepant results within hours of each other on election night.

“There was an information black hole for a month after the election,” Silverman said of the board’s response. “There was a lack of transparency while the Board conducted this audit and almost zero notice was given to the public.”

Silverman said he was not satisfied with the investigation.

“There are still several outstanding issues left unanswered,” said Silverman, referring specifically to the explanation of the malfunctioning voting cartridge. “But we have gotten all we’re going to get from the committee and I hope they will continue to investigate.”

This is not the first time the Board has faced scrutiny. The body previously came under fire during last February’s presidential primary when it failed to provide enough paper ballots for the unanticipated swell of voters.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.