Report blames software for Denver election day problems

This is from Macworld:

Poor software design, serious IT management inefficiencies and an untested deployment of a critical application were all major factors in last month’s Election Day problems in Denver, according to a scathing report from an IT consultant. The problems led to hours-long delays for voters looking to cast ballots and raised questions about the overall efficacy of e-voting.

The 32-page report, released Monday, concluded that the main reason for problems was the electronic poll book (ePollBook) software used by the independent Denver Election Commission (DEC) to oversee voting. The e-poll book software — an US$85,000 custom application created by Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems — included the names, addresses and other information for all registered voters in Denver.

Instead, it led to massive problems on Election Day due to “decidedly subprofessional architecture and construction,” according to the report from consultants Fred Hessler and Matt Smith at Fujitsu Consulting in Greenwood Village, Colo. Fujitsu was hired by Denver shortly after the election to find out what went wrong and help to fix the problems.

“The ePollBook is a poorly designed and fundamentally flawed application that demonstrates little familiarity with basic tenets of Web development,” the report stated. “Due to unnecessary and progressive consumption of system resources, the application’s performance will gradually degrade in a limited-use environment and will be immediately and noticeably hampered with a high number of concurrent users.”

In other words, the more heavily it was used, the slower it worked.

“Moreover, it appears that this application was never stress-tested by the DEC or Sequoia,” other than using it in the spring primary as a test election, the report said. “It is at best naive to deploy enterprise software in an untested state. It is remarkably poor practice to deliberately choose a critical production event (the primary election) to serve as a test cycle.”

The Sequoia application was chosen over a tested ePollBook application already in use by Larimer County, Colo., that has been offered to other Colorado counties for free. The consultants recommend that the DEC either get the Sequoia application repaired or take a new look at the Larimer software to see whether it could be used effectively in Denver. The Larimer application uses a server-resident Microsoft Access front-end accessed via Citrix and an Oracle database on a dedicated server, as well as five application servers for access by election officials.

The voting center delays — with waits in some places of up to three hours — forced an estimated 20,000 voters to abandon their efforts to vote on Election Day, according to the report.

Other problems with the software include Web sessions that would not expire unless a user clicked a specific “exit” button to close the application, tying up system resources, according to the report. The problem, gleaned from user activity logs generated during the Nov. 7 election, was that 90 percent of user sessions that day were not ended using the special button but were closed by users who simply shut the browser. That did not free up resources, causing the system slowdowns.

I’ve not yet had a chance to read the official report, nor to see the response from the vendor, but will post that information when I dig it up.