Vote tabulation software currently in use throughout the United States contains a button to permanently delete audit logs that are required under federal voting-system guidelines, according to a report submitted to California's top elections official.
The button is included in version 1.18.19 of the GEMS, or Global Election Management System, manufactured by Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold Election Systems. That was the piece of software that silently dropped 197 votes from November's final vote count in Northern California's Humboldt county. The report warns that the feature could be used to intentionally or unintentionally delete logs needed to conduct audits into the accuracy of an election.
"GEMS 1.18.19 not only includes 'Clear' buttons that permit deletion of these records, it provides no warning to the operator that exercising the 'Clear' command will result in permanent deletion of the records in the log, nor does it require the operator to confirm the command before GEMS executes it," the report states.
"Deletion of the records in either log would make it impossible to monitor operator access to GEMS or to reconstruct the sequence of operator access, defeating the purpose of [federal guidelines] that GEMS version 1.18.19 was required to adhere to."
Under guidelines established by the Federal Election Commission in 1990, tabulation software used in all US elections must automatically create and permanently retain electronic audit logs of important system events while tallying votes. The guidelines state they are intended to provide a "concrete, indestructible archival record of all system activity" and are "essential for public confidence in the accuracy of the tally."
Premier removed the delete button in later versions of GEMS but three counties in California and several jurisdictions in Texas and Florida continue to use the older program, the report says.
Word of the delete button, which was reported earlier by Wired.com, came as California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was investigating the dropped votes in Humboldt County. The glitch came to light only after a volunteer outfit known as the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project passed every ballot cast through an optical scanner after it was officially counted.
The dropped votes were the result of another deficiency in Central Count Server of GEMS 1.18.19 that in some cases silently drops all tallied votes from the first batch of optical ballots, the report (PDF) concludes. ®