Dust and debris counts

“Dust and debris” from counting votes could foul up machine that counts votes. Huh?

By Noni Mausa

In most districts the voting dust has all settled, but not in Minnesota, where a contested Senate seat is so finely balanced (by 0.01% or so) that a recount is mandated by election law.

I have been following the Al Franken (Dem) / Norm Coleman (Rep) Senate race in Minnesota, partly because it was on my ballot, and partly because I love the idea of a talented satirist in the Senate.

But it’s going to be a while before that’s settled (though Republican incumbent Coleman has already declared his victory and suggested his opponent should just concede already, and save everyone the bother of a recount).

In trying to find out what the delay was, I found a pretty detailed account today, and it appears the problem is … VOTING MACHINES! Yeah, I know you’re shocked.

Here’s the entire article:

And here are some interesting bits. The bolding is mine.


E-Voting Machines Used in Disputed Franken, Coleman Race Failed Tests

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record
Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Electronic voting machines that a Michigan election official said last week incorrectly tabulated vote counts during testing in the state were used in Minnesota where the senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken is in dispute.

According to an Oct. 24 letter sent to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Ruth Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds, warned that tabulating software in Election Systems & Software M-100 voting machines recorded “conflicting” vote counts during testing in her state.

The M-100 was also used in the Minnesota and in more than a dozen other states on Election Day. But there haven’t been reports from election officials in other states about irregularities. Nor have any of the congressional or senate races come as close as the Coleman and Franken battle.

On Wednesday, an unofficial vote count released by Minnesota election officials showed Coleman leading Franken by a razor-thin margin of less than .01%, or 462 votes.

That will lead to an automatic recount, …


Nearly 2.9 million Minnesota voters cast their ballots, with Coleman receiving 1,210,942 to Franken’s 1,210,371…

It’s possible that a recount, the results of which would not be known until December, could turn out in Franken’s favor. Franken told reporters Wednesday “this is a long election and it’s going to be a little longer.”


Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk, said in her letter last week to the EAC that the M-100 voting machines used in four communities Tuesday “reported inconsistent vote totals during their logic and accuracy testing.”

“The same ballots run through the same machines, yielded different results each time,” says the letter addressed to Rosemary Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission. “ES&S determined that the primary issue [that caused the machines to formulate incorrect vote counts] was dust and debris build-up on the sensors inside the M-100” voting machine. “This has impacted the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) settings for the two Contact Image Sensors (CIS).”

“This begs the question,” Johnson wrote. “On Election Day, will the record number of ballots going through the remaining tabulators leave even more build-up on the sensors, affecting machines that tested fine just initially? Could this additional build-up on voting tabulators that have not had any preventative maintenance skew vote totals?

“My understanding is that the problem could occur and election workers would have no inkling that ballots are being misread.”

A spokesman for ES&S did not return calls for comment.

Johnson said the warranties on the ES&S voting machines would be voided if clerks attempted to perform maintenance on the voting machines. The contract Michigan signed with ES&S does not include preventative maintenance. It’s up to each city or township clerk to pay ES&S separately to perform maintenance on the machines.

“ES&S has not performed any preventative maintenance under the state contract, since the machines were delivered three years ago,” Johnson wrote. “I would urge you to investigate whether vote totals could be affected by the failure to provide regular cleaning and preventative maintenance with the ES&S M-100 tabulators.”


Franken said Wednesday he was still in the race despite Coleman having declared victory. The former Saturday Night Live writer said his campaign was also looking into “voting irregularities”, including some polling places in Minneapolis that ran out of registration materials…


Remind me again, is the warranty voided if you perform maintenance on a pad of paper or a #2B pencil?

This must be a guy thing, these voting machines. My ex-husband, a certified Guy, hated to do the dishes in an ordinary sink with hot water and all that boring stuff. But when we bought a voting machine — sorry, dishwasher — he was all over it like a sports car, and would have run two loads a day if I had let him.