Update: As of Thursday 9:04 p.m. EDT, Franken trails Coleman by 236 votes, down from 725 on Tuesday, according to unofficial results released by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
Electronic voting machines that a Michigan election official said last week incorrectly tabulated vote counts during pre-election tests in the state were used in Minnesota where the senate race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken is in dispute.
According to an Oct. 24 letter sent to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), Ruth Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds, warned that tabulating software in Election Systems & Software M-100 optical scan voting machines recorded “conflicting” vote counts during testing in her state.
Minnesota voters uses optical scan ballots that voters mark by hand. ES&S’s M-100 optical scan voting was used in Minnesota counties and in more than a dozen other states on Election Day.
On Wednesday, an unofficial vote count released by Minnesota election officials showed 2.9 million ballots cast with Coleman leading Franken by a razor-thin margin of .02%, or 475 votes. By late Wednesday, the unofficial vote total showed Coleman with 1,211,642 votes, or 41.99 percent of the total votes cast, while Franken had 1,211,167 votes, or 41.98 percent. Dean Barkley, who ran as an Independent, captured 15% of the vote.
That will lead to an automatic recount, which Minnesota state law says is triggered if the margin of victory is less than half of 1%. The recount will be conducted by hand and won’t begin until Nov. 19.
The Associated Press declared Coleman the winner early Wednesday, but hours later the wire service “uncalled” the race. Franken told reporters Wednesday “this is a long election and it’s going to be a little longer.”
Franken went into Tuesday’s election with a slim lead over Coleman. According to exit polls, Franken won the 18-29 age group by 50% to 35% but apparently did not attract independent voters, according to polling data.
It’s possible that a recount, the results of which would not be known until December, could turn out in Franken’s favor or perhaps provide Coleman with additional votes.
Still, that the electronic voting machines manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) that were used in Minnesota Tuesday are said to be unreliable calls into question the integrity of the election.
The EAC,established by the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), launched a program to certify the integrity of e-voting machines in early 2007, but has been slow to act.
Johnson, the Oakland County Clerk, said in her letter last week to the EAC that the M-100 voting machines used in four communities Tuesday “reported inconsistent vote totals during their logic and accuracy testing.”
“The same ballots run through the same machines, yielded different results each time,” says the letter addressed to Rosemary Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the Election Assistance Commission. “ES&S determined that the primary issue [that caused the machines to formulate incorrect vote counts] was dust and debris build-up on the sensors inside the M-100″ voting machine. “This has impacted the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) settings for the two Contact Image Sensors (CIS).”
“This begs the question,” Johnson wrote. “On Election Day, will the record number of ballots going through the remaining tabulators leave even more build-up on the sensors, affecting machines that tested fine just initially? Could this additional build-up on voting tabulators that have not had any preventative maintenance skew vote totals?
“My understanding is that the problem could occur and election workers would have no inkling that ballots are being misread.”
A spokesman for ES&S did not return calls for comment.
Johnson said the warranties on the ES&S voting machines would be voided if clerks attempted to perform maintenance on the voting machines. The contract Michigan signed with ES&S does not include preventative maintenance. It’s up to each city or township clerk to pay ES&S separately to perform maintenance on the machines.
“ES&S has not performed any preventative maintenance under the state contract, since the machines were delivered three years ago,” Johnson wrote. “I would urge you to investigate whether vote totals could be affected by the failure to provide regular cleaning and preventative maintenance with the ES&S M-100 tabulators.”
Johnson requested “a federal directive or law that would allow county clerks, under the supervision of their bipartisan canvass board, to conduct random audits to test machine accuracy using voting tabulators that have had preventive maintenance within the last year.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Johnson said she not received a response to her request from the EAC.
A spokesman for the EAC said Tuesday he was unfamiliar with Johnson’s letter and could not comment on the matter.
A spokesman in Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office said the M-100 optical scan machines used in the Coleman/Franken race were tested and performed accurately.
But it’s possible, Ritchie said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio Tuesday, that a recount will uncover voter machine failures that could tip the outcome of the election in Franken’s favor.
Joe Mansky, the chief elections official in Ramsey County, said in past elections at least two out of every 1,000 ballots cast were not counted, for unknown reasons, by the optical scan voting machines. A recount could easily shift the election, and with more than 3 million ballots cast statewide in Tuesday’s senate race between Franken and Coleman it’s likely that will happen during a recount.
Franken said Wednesday he was still in the race despite Coleman having declared victory.
“The race is still too close to call and we do not know who won,” Franken told reporters Wednesday.
The former Saturday Night Live writer said his campaign was also looking into “voting irregularities”, including some polling places in Minneapolis that ran out of registration materials.
Election activists in the state said voting machines malfunctioned in several counties, and there were cases where voters disappeared from the rolls.