sequoiaAdvantage.jpgMarch 29, 2006 -- With the second and third largest counties in Pennsylvania having chosen the Sequoia AVC Advantage push-button DRE to comply with the Help America Vote Act, the system failed during its state certification exam held in Harrisburg on March 28 & 29. The WinEDS software, which tabulates the votes from the AVC Advantage and other Sequoia products, crashed numerous times, failed to initialize cartridges for the AVC Advantage, and most importantly. allowed vote totals to be changed via simply changing the database file.

State examiner Dr. Michael Shamos halted the exam about 1:30 PM on the 29th saying that it would not be useful to continue with the exam of WinEDS because it is not stable.  He said that "for my confidence, that of the voters, and that of the press" the vendor needs to go away for some period of time and correct problems. A date for the re-exam is not officially scheduled at this time.

During the two-day examination, the Sequoia system displayed some bizarre behavior, which Dr. Shamos duly noted. When clicking on a "PRINT" button at one point caused the WinEDS software to crash repeatedly he quipped with the vendor, "Why don't you just change the label on this from "PRINT" to "PRESS HERE TO CRASH"?

Other issues surfaced when the Sequoia software tallied the correct number of votes in a test election, but the 'ballot images', or internal records of the votes as cast, were highly corrupted. Attempting to format a cartridge so that these results could be obtained from the Advantage machine's internal memory failed, because the WinEDS software was only able ot format for the Edge, another style of DRE manufactured by Sequoia.

Sequoia technicians in Denver CO did evening work on the software, resulting in a new version of WinEDS by Wedneday morning. The problems appeared to be solved.

The most serious flaw appeared on Wednesday afternoon when Dr. Shamos attempted to show a group of activists present that no one could change the vote totals by going through the database files. He was able to make a minor change in a binary file that changed results in several races. One candidate had his vote total jump from 5 votes to over 8,500.

It seemed that in correcting the formatting and file reading problems that appeared on Tuesday night, the Sequoia techs altered something else by Wednesday morning, resulting in an apparently unstable system able to change vote totals with a few strokes of the keyboard. Dr. Shamos, who had just the day before given a report stating that paperless electronic voting systems are safe and secure to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, seemed surprised and a bit upset by the discovery.

"I am now in the unique position of having a hack to suggest to Harri Hursti, instead of the other way around," Shamos said, referring to the Finnish computer expert who discovered major security holes in Diebold voting systems a few months ago.

Department of State officials met hurriedly to discuss the situation which has major implications for Pennsylvania's second and third largest counties, Allegheny and Montgomery. Sequoia will have to correct the problems in the WinEDS software and submit new versions to the Department of State for further testing, as well as to the Independent Testing Authority lab where WinEDS is still awaiting federal certification to the 2002 standards.

In the meantime, officials in Allegheny County who had selected the AVC Advantage system and are awaiting used machines now on their way to the county from Nevada and Baltimore through Sequoia, were unsure of how to proceed. Citizens from the Allegheny county chapter of VotePA and other groups are pressuring for the county to choose optical scan with a balllot marker such as the Automark for access to the disabled, which would provide a voter verified paper ballot to protect the results in the event of such software failures during a real election.

Allegheny county is considering the establishment of a Citizen Advisory Board on Voting Systems, which would be made up of voters, computer experts, and citizens with expertise in voting systems. Councilman William Russell Robinson, who is known for calling for 'paper verification or hell to pay" when it comes to voting machines, is said to be spearheading the effort.

Montgomery County, which already owns older model Sequoia Advantages and were told by the vendor that they could be upgraded to comply with HAVA, are also left hanging by the situation. It is unknown at this time what voting method Montgomery will use the event that the Sequoia system is not certified by the May primary.

At least one other county in the state, Potter County in northern Pennsylvania, has a handful of the affected Sequoia Advantage machines.