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NJ Election Discrepancies Worse Than Previously Thought, Contradict Sequoia’s Explanation PDF  | Print |  Email
By Ed Felten, Princeton University   
April 05, 2008
This article was posted at Ed Felten's Freedom to Tinker Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

I wrote previously about discrepancies in the vote totals reported by Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines in New Jersey’s presidential primary election, and the incomplete explanation offered by Sequoia, the voting machine vendor. I published copies of the “summary tapes” printed by nine voting machines in Union County that showed discrepancies; all of them were consistent with Sequoia’s explanation of what went wrong.

This week we obtained six new summary tapes, from machines in Bergen and Gloucester counties. Two of these new tapes contradict Sequoia’s explanation and show more serious discrepancies that we saw before.

Before we dig into the details, let’s review some background. At the end of Election Day, each Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine prints a “summary tape” (or “results report”) that lists (among other things) the number of votes cast for each candidate on that machine, and the total voter turnout (number of votes cast) in each party. In the Super Tuesday primary, a few dozen machines in New Jersey showed discrepancies in which the number of votes recorded for candidates in one party exceeded the voter turnout in that party. For example, the vote totals section of a tape might show 61 total votes for Republican candidates, while the turnout section of the same tape shows only 60 Republican voters.

Sequoia’s explanation was that in certain circumstances, a voter would be allowed to vote in one party while being recorded in the other party’s turnout. (”It has been observed that the ‘Option Switch’ or Party Turnout Totals section of the Results Report may be misreported whereby turnout associated with the party or option switch choice is misallocated. In every instance, however, the total turnout, or the sum of the turnout allocation, is accurate.”) Sequoia’s memo points to a technical flaw that might cause this kind of misallocation.

The nine summary tapes I had previously were all consistent with Sequoia’s explanation. Though the total votes exceeded the turnout in one party, the votes were less than the turnout in the other party, so that the discrepancy could have been caused by misallocating turnout as Sequoia described. For example, a tape from Hillside showed 61 Republican votes cast by 60 voters, and 361 Democratic votes cast by 362 voters, for a total of 422 votes cast by 422 voters. Based on these nine tapes, Sequoia’s explanation, though incomplete, could have been correct.

But look at one of the new tapes, from Englewood Cliffs, District 4, in Bergen County. Here’s a relevant part of the tape:

The Republican vote totals are Giuliani 1, Paul 1, Romney 6, McCain 14, for a total of 22. The Democratic totals are Obama 33, Edwards 2, Clinton 49, for a total of 84. That comes to 106 total votes across the two parties.

The turnout section (or “Option Switch Totals”) shows 22 Republican voters and 83 Democratic voters, for a total of 105.

This is not only wrong — 106 votes cast by 105 voters — but it’s also inconsistent with Sequoia’s explanation. Sequoia says that all of the voters show up in the turnout section, but a few might show up in the wrong party’s turnout. (”In every instance, however, the total turnout, or the sum of the turnout allocation, is accurate.”) That’s not what we see here, so Sequoia’s explanation must be incorrect.

And that’s not all. Each machine has a “public counter” that keeps track of how many votes were cast on the machine in the current election. The public counter, which is found on virtually all voting machines, is one of the important safeguards ensuring that votes are not cast improperly. Here’s the top of the same tape, showing the public counter as 105.

The public counter is important enough that the poll workers actually sign a statement at the bottom of the tape, attesting to the value of the public counter. Here’s the signed statement from the same tape:

The public counter says 105, even though 106 votes were reported. That’s a big problem.

Another of the new tapes, this one from West Deptford in Gloucester County, shows a similar discrepancy, with 167 total votes, a total turnout of 166, and public counter showing 166.

How many more New Jersey tapes show errors? What’s wrong with Sequoia’s explanation? What really happened? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

Isn’t it time for a truly independent investigation?

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