Verified Voting Blog: Virginia – the new Florida?
There are many ways in which Virginia 2012 could resemble the Florida 2000 – only worse. At least in 2000 there were paper ballots to recount in Florida. But only 7 out of 134 Virginia localities (Virginia terminology for counties and independent cities) do not use paperless Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. If a DRE loses or miscounts ballots, it is essentially impossible to determine the correct results.
As if to guarantee that it will be impossible ever to verify an election in Virginia, Virginia law actually prohibits manual post-election ballot audits of paper ballots, except in extremely narrow and unlikely circumstances. This prevents election verification even in the 7 localities that have no paperless DREs (Chesterfield, Gloucester, Hanover, New Kent, Wythe, Fredericksburg, and Williamburg), together with the 30 other localities that have a mix of paper ballots and paperless voting machines. Unless the anti-verification law is repealed, Virginia will continue to be a poster child for how not to run an election, even after Virginia replaces all of its antiquated paperless DREs with paper ballot based optical scan systems, as it should. But it gets worse.
Two notoriously unreliable paperless DRE systems are still being used in Virginia, years after their inadequacies had become common knowledge. A distinctive feature of the WINVote that makes it particularly vulnerable is it’s use of wifi to communicate between equipment in the polling place. The AVS WINVote, used only in Hind County, Mississippi and in the state of Virginia, failed to qualify for federal certification in 2007, even to the lower testing of the two voting systems standards. Since then, AVS seems to have folded, with maintenance done by Election Services Online, a Philadelphia based company with ties to the Shoup family, that founded AVS predecessor company over a century ago.
The other unreliable paperless DRE system is the Unilect Patriot, which gained notoriety in November, 2004 in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Carteret County, N.C. a Patriot machine lost almost 4500 votes in early voting, while in Pennsylvania the Patriot appears to have lost a significant number of votes in the 2004 presidential race. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes issued a report claiming that the Patriot was not “capable of absolute accuracy” and was not “safely and efficiently usable”. Pennsylvania decertified the Patriot; it is now used only in Virginia. Should either the AVS WINVote or the Unilect Patriot malfunction on Election Day with the Presidential or Senate race hanging in the balance, our country could be in uncharted territory.