UPDATE: Prince William Election Office Does Not Test the Election Ballot Scanner System Before an Election as Required
The Prince William County Election Office now tests the same “vDrives” during Logic and Accuracy that they use in the election, as a change in procedure effective for the primary in 2023. This has reduced their time for logic and accuracy testing, and we appreciate this step in the right direction.
Since 2011 Prince William County has been using Hart InterCivic ballot scanners for its election, after being forced by the state to do so. These are the scanners that tabulate our ballots.
Our election integrity team includes professionals in computer engineering and computer science. As such we have observed numerous Logic and Accuracy Tests (LnA) for the ballot scanners in the county. These tests are required by the Virginia Department of Elections as an assurance that the ballot scanner systems used for the election tabulate the ballots correctly. Our observations are documented.
Our ballot scanners are computer systems with the ability to scan ballots and tabulate from the scanned image of the ballots. The site jstor.org defines a system as, “an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole.” A further definition that applies is from Techtarget.com, “A computer system consists of hardware components that have been carefully chosen so that they work well together and software components or programs that run in the computer. The main software component is itself an operating system (OS) that manages and provides services to other programs that can be run in the computer.”
There are thumb drives inserted into each scanner before every election; one is the “key” that that in layman’s terms allows the scanner to work, and the other is the thumb drive that programs the election onto the scanner so it can read the ballot for that election.
At LnA, the system to be used on election day should be tested. This means the system as a whole: election ballots, election thumb drives, etc. However, our LnA observations show that Prince William completes the test with a test thumb drive, and then switches out this tested thumb drive with an election thumb drive before being locked for election use. So, the system used for the election is NOT tested.
In addition to the test thumb drives being used for the election, the county also uses test ballots from the vendor for LnA. These are not actual election day ballots. Since 2022 the county election office has offloaded ballot printing to K&H in Washington state. Those election ballots were not tested in the scanners for LnA. The office instead used test ballots sent by the vendor. That caught up with the county in the Gainesville Special Election, where the K&H printed ballots were too wide for the scanners.
The now former Virginia Voting Systems Program Manager for Localities, Karen Hoyt Stewart, knew about the situation for years. Hart InterCivic, she said, recommends this practice to make it easier on the election office. The problem is that does not meet the law in Virginia. The Hart InterCivic 2.5 Minnesota State Certification Report also makes it clear that the system easily allows LnA test ballot votes to be removed and so using the election day thumb drives for LnA is standard. After our election integrity team conversed with Ms. Hoyt Stewart and the county, and meeting with the vendor was held.
You should know that we alerted the election office numerous times to the thumb drive situation, but we were repeatedly told “maybe next election.” We also asked for a CheckSum to be done during LnA in front of observers, and the office dutifully obliged by displaying what they insisted was way to show the test vs election thumb drives were no different. What the office really showed was the available memory using a scripted popup screen. No operating system automatically pops up a screen showing 1KB when a thumb drive is inserted. Honesty goes a long way, but their actions show the willingness to deceive the public.
We are waiting for results of the meeting with Hart InterCivic. The March 2023 Electoral Board meeting indicates they have fixed the problems with both ballots and drives, but it was not finalized.