Thursday, December 3, 2009

Completely Unofficial Count

My independent count of the November 3rd election is now up at, along with the ballot montage files. The independent count is not identical to the official count, but it is close enough to support the accuracy of the official count. (It shouldn't be too surprising when different machines come up with numbers that vary by one or two -- they may have different thresholds for deciding when a mark is a vote.)

I've also posted a draft of my report on the independent counting process: it's at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Count Status

Because the project was mentioned in today's Eureka Times-Standard, I want to note that we've essentially completed an independent count of the November 3rd election. It matches the results from the County quite well -- no surprises whatsoever -- but we want to dot our i's and cross our t's before making it public.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scans Available

The scanning from the November 3rd election was completed about a week ago. Montage files of the scans are now available at .

We should be releasing an independent count of the election within a few days.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 3rd election, scanning in progress

We've started scanning ballots from the November 3rd election. Due to the horribly light turnout, we're almost done.

This election is using Hart ballots and equipment, rather than Diebold/Premier.

A couple of technical items...

First, the Hart ballots are rounded on the upper left corner (when viewing the front side). This makes it much easier to ensure that all ballots are properly oriented. Second, the Hart ballots are on a paper stock that seems about the same weight as office paper, while the Diebold/Premier were on card stock. The regular paper weight has substantially reduced our mis-feed rate.

I'm hoping to be able to run Ballot Browser to generate independent counts early next week.

Monday, June 15, 2009

May 19 Special Election: official and independent counts

The May 19 Special Election final results are in.

The County results are from the Humboldt County Elections office website.

The independent results are generated by running Ballot Browser against the Transparency Project's ballot images, using a vote threshold "lightness" of 226 (on a scale of 0 [black] to 255 [white]). That is, a vote oval that registered an average brightness of 226/255 or lower was counted as a vote. Approximately 50 ballots that were rejected by Ballot Browser were hand counted. These rejections were mostly due to excessive skew in the image.

The county and independent results agree to 0.01% on five of the six propositions. On proposition 1C, they agree to 0.02%.

As time permits, we may try to track down these (very minor) differences.

#------- %-------- /// #------ %---------
09661 37.44% / 09661
16143 62.56% / 16138 62.55%

10537 40.92% / 10537 40.91%

15215 59.08% / 15218 59.09%

08751 34.00% / 08749 33.98%

16985 66.00% / 16995 66.02%

08419 32.89% / 08422 32.89%

17179 67.11% / 17183 67.11%

08151 31.83% / 08147 31.82%
17455 68.17% / 17457 68.18%

20966 81.18% / 20965 81.17%
04861 18.82% / 04865 18.83%

Saturday, June 13, 2009

May 19 ballot images now online

Lower resolution ballot image "montages" are available now at . Zip files of the original scan collection will be available on higher bandwidth sites sometime soon, or you can purchase a DVD from Humboldt County's elections office.

There are 26,040 ballot images (a few of which represent accidentally scanned ballot backs) in 260 montage files.

Although the ballot count was approximately 22,000 in Humboldt's election night final report, the final count includes approximately 4,000 additional ballots, mostly vote-by-mail ballots that came in close to election day but were not counted by election day.

We've already performed a preliminary count of these images via Ballot Browser, and the preliminary Ballot Browser vote percentages match the current election office results to well within a tenth of a percent. We are now going over the approximately 150 images that Ballot Browser kicked out for manual inspection, and will present complete independent counts within a few days.

Less drama this time, huh?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

May 19 Special Election

Yes, the transparency project will be releasing ballot images from the May 19 Special Election real soon now. Volunteers have scanned 21,000 of the just under 22,000 ballots cast. Ballot images and at least one independent count will likely be available sometime next week.

MN audit report

Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota has released what looks to me like an extraordinarily well-done report: “Eyes on the Vote Count: Non-partisan observer reports of Minnesota's 2008 audit and recount" It can be downloaded at

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ballot Browser featured in April Python Magazine

For the geek in us all,

Ballot Browser is featured on the cover of April's Python magazine.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

volunteers needed for May election

The Election Transparency Project will be scanning the ballots cast in the May special election. Because many vote-by-mail ballots will be returned before election day, we will start scanning (but not counting) during the week before the election. Ideally, we will be finished a week after the election.

If you live in Humboldt, can volunteer, and have the technical skills to drive a car or flag a bus, please contact Mitch Trachtenberg via email at mjtrac sort-of-an-"a"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sec of State public hearing

There's been a bit of press around the California Secretary of State's public hearing into decertification of the GEMS version used in Humboldt County.

The big news is this: even current versions of the GEMS tabulation system don't note the deletion of decks of ballots.

Too many sources to link, but Kim Zetter's piece on Wired is a great start.

Ballot Browser update

Version 0.52 of Ballot Browser is now available here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CA SoS report on the Deck Zero Problem

The California Secretary of State's office has released their report on the Deck Zero problem that was (re)discovered as a result of the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project. The link is here:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

State considers decertifying election software

The slow-motion crash continues....

State considers decertifying election software
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 02/22/2009 01:27:29 AM PST

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is considering withdrawing
the state's approval of the flawed Premier Elections Solutions
software that resulted in almost 200 ballots disappearing from
Humboldt County's final November election results.

Bowen's office announced that it will hold a public hearing March 17
at her Sacramento office to discuss the findings of its investigation
into the problem, and to take public comment on the possible
withdrawal of the state's approval of the voting system. Meanwhile,
the two other counties in the state that use the system are left
contemplating what its decertification would mean, and some election
advocates are lobbying for some punitive action to be taken against
Premier Elections Solutions.

"The public hearing is typically the last step in the process,"
Secretary of State spokeswoman Nicole Winger said. "It
offers one final opportunity for input, for the vendor to state their
side of the story and for the public to give comments or input as
well. It's a chance for everyone to be on the same page and see where
things stand."

The software error reportedly first came to Bowen's attention after
Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich informed her office
that the first-of-its-kind Humboldt County Election Transparency
Project had uncovered a discrepancy in the final vote tallies from the
county's November election.

The project found that 197 vote-by-mail ballots, which had
been scanned through vote counting machines, mysteriously disappeared
from the final ballot tally as tabulated by Premier Elections
Solutions' GEMS software.

The problem was traced to a programming error with the specific
version of the software used in Humboldt County -- GEMS version
1.18.19 -- a programming error that sometimes results in the first
deck of ballots scanned through the vote counting machine vanishing
without a trace from the final results.

Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Premier Elections Solutions, said in a
previous interview with the Times-Standard that the company had known
of the programming error since 2004. Saying the certification process
is too lengthy and time consuming to have had the software
re-certified, Riggall said Premier instead issued "work around" orders
by e-mail to its customers instructing them how to take steps to avoid
the problem.

The terse, 40-word e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the
Times-Standard, tells the vendor's customers that it is "very
important that you follow these instructions," and urges them to

the Premier's representatives with any questions.

In two other California counties using the same software -- San Luis
Obispo and Santa Barbara -- elections officials included the "work
around" orders into their written Election Day procedures. In Humboldt
County, then Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams said he received the
e-mail, but failed to pass the information along to his boss at the
time, Crnich, or his successor, Kelly Sanders.

The transparency project that discovered the error passes every ballot
cast in an election through an optical scanner after it's been
officially counted. The ballot images are then placed online, along
with open-source software, created by volunteer Mitch Trachtenberg,
that allows viewers to sort the ballots by precinct and scrutinize the
vote as they see fit.

Trachtenberg and Crnich met last week with Bowen and members of her
staff to offer a demonstration of the project, and they said the
presentation went well.

Careful to say that Bowen has not yet endorsed the transparency
project, Winger said her office was certainly interested to hear about
the fledgling project.

"Secretary Bowen is always interested to hear the details of efforts
to make elections more transparent, auditable and accurate," Winger
said. "She certainly is open to ideas about how to accomplish that on
a secure, statewide level."

Reached Thursday, Riggall said Premier believes the version of its
GEMS software in question should be taken out of circulation in

"We completely agree that that version of GEMS should not continue to
be used," he said. "We absolutely have no problem and certainly would
concur were the secretary to take that action directing counties to
use a later version."

In Humboldt County, the Board of Supervisors has already approved a
plan for the county elections office to switch to Hart InterCivic
equipment. Crnich is currently working with Bowen's office to come up
with a plan to fund the switch, which will then come back before the
board for final approval.

But, the possible decertification of the version of GEMS currently
used in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is raising some questions
there for elections officials, especially with the state calling a
special election in May. Officials in both counties said they are
still looking into how they would proceed if the approval of their
voting systems were to be withdrawn.

Meanwhile, some in the election watchdog community are pushing for
either the Secretary of State's Office or the federal Elections
Assistance Commission to pursue punitive actions against Premier,
which they say knowingly kept elections systems in place that had
unacceptable error rates.

Riggall said Premier has done nothing disingenuous, and notified its
customers immediately upon discovering the error in its vote counting
system, carefully instructing them how to "work around" the problem.

"I don't see that there is anything -- absolutely nothing -- in how we
have handled this issue going back several years that has been
disingenuous," Riggall said.

Trachtenberg, on the other hand, said he thinks it would be
appropriate for the Department of Justice or the Attorney General's
Office to investigate the matter.

"I think that would be totally appropriate," Trachtenberg said. "They
sold software that doesn't work."

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or

Saturday, January 10, 2009

independent count now available in CSV form

I've just uploaded contest-by-contest CSV files (Comma Separated Variables -- it's a spreadsheet thing) for many of Humboldt County's November 2008 contests. They are at The files are based on the output from Ballot Browser operating on scans done by the volunteers of the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project and are as unofficial as anything can be. The file format is explained at the link.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

update on Humboldt's Nov 2008 results

Joint Statement on the November 2008 Humboldt County Election Results

Carolyn Crnich,
Humboldt County Clerk and Registrar of Voters

Mitch Trachtenberg,
Humboldt County Election Transparency Project volunteer

January 8, 2009

As we've compared the results from Humboldt County's official count with the independent count Mitch has conducted with his Ballot Browser independent vote counting software, we've found two additional issues.

First, the Election Transparency Project had scanned the front side of 63 ballots twice (once upside down); these duplicate scans will be removed from Ballot Browser's counts.

Second, the Elections office appears to have scanned 57 ballots into the Diebold GEMS system twice -- these duplicates need to be removed from the GEMS results.

The numbers from the two systems are now extremely close, though not identical.

We believe many of the remaining variations may be a result of differing vote sensitivity between the Diebold system and Ballot Browser, with Ballot Browser's totals approximately 0.05% higher than those from the Diebold system (approximately one added vote per 2,000 counted vote opportunities).

The variations that remain do not affect the outcome of any races.