Did Voting Machines Play a Role in Alvin Greene's Win?


It's an explanation that's been proposed by some: that South Carolina's electronic touch-screen voting machines had something to do with Alvin Greene's victory in the state's Democratic Senate primary.

The vast majority of South Carolina's votes are cast on ES&S iVotronic touch-screen machines; paper ballots are used for absentee ballots and in emergency cases (like when poll workers are locked out of a polling place early in the morning and can't let voters in), but every polling station uses touch-screen machines to record the vast majority of its votes, and iVotronic is the only kind of electronic machine South Carolina uses.

The Associated Press reported in 2008 that South Carolina would still use iVotronic machines despite Ohio and Colorado having banned them:
GREENVILLE -- South Carolina election officials say they still plan to use touch-screen voting machines despite the fact that other states have banned the use of similar systems made by the same company.

Last month, top election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared that Election Systems and Software's iVotronic is unfit for elections.

The ban was prompted by a study done for the state of Ohio in which researchers found electronic voting systems could be corrupted with magnets or handheld electronic devices such as Palm Treos.

"We've reviewed the report and we remain confident in the security and accuracy of South Carolina's voting system," state Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.

iVotronic has not applied for the Election Assistance Commission's voluntary certification program, and thus has not been studied or certified by EAC.

Touch-screen machines, however--including iVotronic machines--are susceptible to fraud beyond the magnet/Palm Treo corruption referenced by the AP. Kentucky uses some iVotronic machines, and in March 2009 nine people were indicted in Clay County, Kentucky--including election officials, a circuit court judge, and a superintendent of schools--for essentially tricking voters into thinking their touch-screen votes had been cast, then changing those votes before they were recorded by the machines. They allegedly instructed election officials on how to exploit voter unfamiliarity with the machines to do this, as part of a scheme to sell votes in the county.

A Kentucky election official said the state has had no problem with the machines, other than than the incident of premeditated fraud and manipulation, and most agree that touch-screen machines aren't a problem unless voting officials have set them up wrong. 

Touch-screen voting machines are generally reliable, according to Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, who maintains that touch-screen machines record votes more accurately than paper ballots, provided election officials have set them up properly. Election officials have to set up voting machines for each election, entering candidates' names for different elections.

South Carolina's Election Commission says it's confident its voting system are reliable, and Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire rebuffed the claim by Vic Rawl (whom Greene defeated in the primary with over 100,00 votes, just under 60%) that South Carolina purchased its machines second-hand from Louisiana after the state stopped using them. South Carolina bought its machines directly from ES&S, Whitmire said.

The Election Commission has assured the state's voters that they have nothing to fear in casting their ballots for the June 22 Republican gubernatorial primary run-off between state Rep. Nikki Haley and Rep. Gresham Barrett, posting this statement to its website.

At this point, it appears unlikely that iVotronic malfunction caused Greene to win, while the possibility of widespread error in setting up the machines or fraudulent exploitation of them (though also not exactly likely to occur) appears more possible.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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