Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pierce County Instant Runoff System has new bug, says Washington SOS - may affect San Francisco

This email from the Secretary of State of Washington outlines another bug in the new IRV voting system for Pierce County. It affects "rank choice voting" (IRV/Instant Runoff) only. Pierce County Washington adopted "instant runoff voting" in November 2006. In May 2008, officials were backed into a corner and ended up getting permission to use uncertified IRV software, violating their own state's laws.

Pierce county has Sequoia "Insight" optical scanners and DREs. The tabulating software, WinEDS 4.0.34 is still under test by iBeta. There is not even a test plan presented to the EAC for this system at this time. Washington State provisionally certified this software for use even after finding that there were problems with the use of the Insight machines when used in the RCV process. San Francisco is also using this system, and currently it is not certified in California to count IRV. San Francisco officials still don't know how they will count their "ranked choice" voting in November 2008.

Here's the email (Thanks to John Gideon of for sharing)

Dear Team,

It has come to our attention that there is a very rare occurrence of a problem with the Rank Choice Voting results loading with Pierce County’s provisionally certified software.
This occurrence is very rare, and did not present itself with the election definition we tested during the Emergency Certification testing at Pierce County. It does not affect the reporting of Election Night results including both Ranked and non-Ranked Choice contests. Should this condition occur with the General Election, it would only affect the Ranked Choice Voting reduction algorithm, and would be easily caught during normal results checking procedures at the time the Ranked Choice contests are processed.

However, if this condition occurs, the recovery process would be an extremely time consuming manual process. Given the nature of the problem, our preferred approach for ensuring the successful and efficient processing of Ranked Choice results is to apply a minor coding change to a single, isolated component of the election software. A detailed description of the problem is below.

Our office has instructed Sequoia to apply the fix to Pierce County’s provisionally certified software so that we can test it. We have also instructed iBeta, a nationally certified Voting System Test Laboratory(VSTL), to review the modification to the source code and verify that the minor change required, and only the change required, is applied to the provisionally certified code used for build 108 presently installed at Pierce County. We have also instructed iBeta to witness a new build of the software with the change applied. This new build will be installed at Pierce County after we test it here at our office.

We will be testing the modified software at our office on Wednesday,September 17th at 10 AM. We have posted a public notice of this testing.Since you were present during the initial testing, we wanted to alert you to this modification in case you wanted to be present at this test.The county will also be thoroughly pre-testing the General Election results, and we will be present during the Logic and Accuracy test,currently scheduled for October 13, 1:00 PM.

Bob – I’d like to respectfully request your presence at this test, if possible. Any other members of the public are welcome also. I’d like Bob to be present because of his experience with the Provisional Certification, his knowledge of technical issues, and his ability to explain technical processes in user friendly terms. Bob – please let me know if this is possible.

I will keep this group informed of the results of the test, and be happy to answer any questions you may have.


During additional testing of Sequoia Voting System v 4.0, including Rank Choice Voting, Sequoia Voting Systems’ testing engineers found a discrepancy in the Rank Choice Voting module results. After careful examination, it was determined that a field in the Preferential Data File was not initialized before loading data into this from Edge results cartridges. This file is used by the Rank Choice Voting module. Because this field was not initialized, errant data present in computer memory was introduced into the Preferential Data File. If the errant data included certain characters, i.e. carriage return, the carriage return would cause incomplete loading of Edge results into the Rank Choice Voting module. This incomplete load results in missing data from the Rank Choice Voting module.

This condition does not affect the loading of results into WinEDS for the purpose of Election Night summary reporting for any contest including the first rank choices for Ranked Choice Voting contests. Furthermore, this condition has no affect on individual Edge machine results reports.

The modification involves a coding change to initialize the field to clear out any errant characters so that they do not get introduced into the preferential data file before results are loaded into the RCV module.

iBeta will verify the following source code changes:

avcedge.rc: OCX file version is updated from to
preftally.cpp Initialization added to the write-in field.

Our office will observe the software behavior before the modification and identify the errant characters. If possible we will witness the effect of the carriage return character on the loading of results into the RCV module.

After the update is applied we will verify that the errant characters are no longer present, and that the RCV module is fully functional.

Once this update is installed at Pierce County, the county will verify that RCV results have fully loaded in both their pre-testing and official Logic and Accuracy test with the state.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,

**Patty Murphy****
Voting Systems Support
Office of the Secretary of State
(360) 902-4188
Fax (360) 664-4619
PO Box 40229
520 Union Ave NE Olympia, WA 98504


related stories:

July 9, 2008 Instant runoff update for San Francisco: federal agency unlikely to certify any voting systems before November
June 27, 2008 Instant runoff forces Pierce County Washington to use uncertified voting systems