CommunityPam's House Blend

Palm Beach e-vote dry run screeches to a halt. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter)

Oy. Is there no end of the troubles with the e-voting machines? Have we not been talking about these kinds of shenanigans for months? (AP):

A computer crash that forced a pre-election test of electronic voting machines to be postponed was trumpeted by critics as proof of the balloting technology’s unreliability.

The incident in Palm Beach County — which is infamous for its hanging and pregnant chads during the 2000 presidential election — did not directly involve the touch-screen terminals on which nearly one in three U.S. voters will cast ballots on Election Day.

But critics of the ATM-like machines said it proved how fickle any computer-based voting system can be and highlighted the need for touch-screens to produce paper records.

Tuesday’s public dry run had to be postponed until Friday because a computer server that tabulates data from the touch-screen machines crashed, said county elections supervisor Theresa LePore. Such “logic and accuracy” tests are required by law.

She said she suspected Hurricane Jeanne, which struck in September, may have zapped electricity and air conditioning to the room where the server was stored, causing temperatures to soar to 90 degrees or more and possibly causing the crash. The storm wiped out power to nearly 1.3 million homes and businesses throughout Florida.

The incident raised questions in the minds of computer hardware and software engineers about the reliability of other computers on which Floridians will depend for an accurate vote count on Nov. 2 — especially touch-screen machines.

An Achilles’ heel of electronic voting equipment, just like any machines whose circuits get hot with colliding electrons, is its inability to tolerate extreme conditions, many experts say.

“I don’t have any confidence at all in these machines,” said Susan VanHouten, a poll worker in Lake Worth, Fla., who has helped mobilize 900 monitors at polls in Palm Beach County on Nov. 2. “At this point, the only thing we can focus on is getting as many people as possible in the polls to watch for electrical problems and hardware and software problems.”

According to technical standards for electronic voting systems, updated in 2002, voting machines must be able to tolerate storage temperatures ranging from minus 4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. They must be able to operate in “natural” conditions and temperatures ranging from 50 to 95 degrees.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding