Server crash blitzes Florida's e-voting records

Bring back Hanging Chad

As the 2004 US Presidential Election race gets under way, Florida is again at the centre of a vote counting controversy. The department for elections has admitted that server crashes have wiped out the voter records from the Miami-Dade county elections in 2002.

Although no one in the department knows what caused the crash, officials claim that the problem has been remedied, according to The Miami Herald. A nifty bit of tech support, to be sure.

The data losses were uncovered by the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition, campaigners who say that the crashes show how flaky the electronic voting system can be.

"We will never know how good or bad the audit capability because the data is gone," Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, an attorney and chairwoman of the coalition told The Herald. "What this shows from a big-picture perspective is that no one knows what's going on."

Florida is seeking to restore credibility to its electoral systems after the Hanging Chad fiasco of 2000, but this news is not likely to inspire voter confidence. The state has also been widely criticised for suspending voter rights of convicted felons, a prohibition that continues after the completion of any sentence. It is one of six states that maintains this practice.

The coalition argues that because there is no paper trail to follow in the event of a recount, the electronic voting machines - supplied by Election Systems & Software - are unsafe.

The server crashed in both May and November 2003, ditching nearly all the electronic data from the municipal elections the year before. The touchscreen voting system involves keeping voting records on flash cards for 10 days after an election. However, when the servers crashed in November (not long after a local election), it is not clear that a recount would have been possible if it had been called for.

The law requires that the data on the flash cards be kept. The idea is that with two storage streams for voter data, if one is potentially compromised, there is another data trail against which it can be checked and verified. However, a bug in the code meant that this data was scrambled, according to an earlier audit. Election Systems & Software says that this problem has been fixed.

Seth Kaplan, a spokesman for the election department, said the data is now immune to computer failure as it is backed up to tape. Let's hope the tapes are stored away from flammable liquids. ®

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