Election officials in Washington, DC, are finally going to get source code for voting machines that produced ‘phantom’ votes during the district’s primary election last September.
Sequoia Voting Systems agreed on Friday, after the city threatened a lawsuit, to hand over the proprietary code. Sequoia will also give election officials documentation describing how the source code and machines were created and maintained, according to the Washington Post.
During the city’s primary election last September, Sequoia’s optical-scan machines added about 1,500 ‘phantom’ votes to races on ballots cast in one precinct.
The city has been demanding a look at the source code to determine the problem. But Sequoia initially wanted a $20 million bond from officials guaranteeing they wouldn’t disclose information about the system. Sequoia agreed on Friday to provide the source code without a bond, though the city has agreed to keep the company’s trade secrets confidential. The city can, however, publish information about vulnerabilities that its experts uncover in the system.
Sequoia’s machines are used in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
It’s not the first time that Sequoia’s source code has been examined by outsiders. The company was required to give it to California in 2007 for a top-to-bottom review the state conducted of voting machines used in that state.
Last year, a judge also ordered New Jersey election officials to give source code for the state’s AVC Advantage touch-screen machines to Princeton University computer scientist Andrew Appel and others for a lawsuit that challenged the integrity of Sequoia’s paperless touch-screen voting machines. Voting activists had sued the state to decommission the machines. It was believed to be the first time a court sided with plaintiffs against election officials withholding source code. Appel’s team found several vulnerabilities with the system.
In a separate examination of voting results from the Sequoia machines in New Jersey, Appel also found a discrepancy between summary tapes printed from Sequoia machines during the state’s primary election in 2008 and totals that were recorded on the machine’s memory cards. Summary tapes from machines in one district showed a phantom vote for then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama that didn’t appear in the memory card totals.
The Sequoia machines in Union County, New Jersey, also showed that Republican presidential candidates received 61 votes when only 60 ballots had been cast in the Republican primary. About 60 machines showed such discrepancies. When Union County election officials announced that they planned to have Princeton academics examine the machines to determine what went wrong, Sequoia threatened a lawsuit.
Sequoia initially blamed the problem on election officials (.pdf) for pushing the wrong buttons, but later claimed it uncovered a problem in its software that was creating the vote errors and announced that it had fixed the issue.