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Voters News Service: What Went Wrong 237

ddtstudio writes "Baseline Magazine has a pretty good recounting of how even the national TV networks can have a computer network go wrong -- in this case the night of the last U.S. election. From the article: "VNS had been trying to rewrite and retool the system for years. This was just the most recent attempt and it failed miserably." Oracle, IBM, BEA Systems -- all crashed."
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Voters News Service: What Went Wrong

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  • Re:What went wrong? (Score:5, Informative)

    by cioxx ( 456323 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:38AM (#5079785) Homepage
    They used Linux.

    The systems in question were mainframe computers running IBM's Operating System 390.

    Not that i'm a linux fanatic, just wanted you to get your facts straight.
  • Nearly ad free (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:39AM (#5079790)
    ... and one page version [baselinemag.com] of article.
  • For the last time (Score:2, Informative)

    by M.C. Hampster ( 541262 ) <M.C.TheHampsterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:42AM (#5079799) Journal

    George W. Bush is not a Junior. Al Gore is.

  • sensationalism (Score:4, Informative)

    by abhikhurana ( 325468 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:44AM (#5079804)
    Well, no where in the article is it mentioned that there was a problem with IBM and Oracle. It just says that there were delays in transferring data. So I don't know why Oracle and IBM were named in the original post.
  • BZZZZZZ! (Score:4, Informative)

    by M.C. Hampster ( 541262 ) <M.C.TheHampsterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:45AM (#5079807) Journal

    From article:

    Insufficient testing of the new Java-based WebLogic application server that replaced mainframe computers running IBM's Operating System 390.

    Now, it does not mention what OS they were running WebLogic on in the article, but it was definately not OS/390.

  • by A Big Gnu Thrush ( 12795 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:54AM (#5079828)
    Yes it was.

    From the article:

    Back up to Election Day, Nov. 5. The balance of power in Congress was up for grabs. Yet by 10 a.m., the TV networks confirmed what they had feared for months: They couldn't derive any meaningful exit-polling data from a system they had just spent between $10 million and $15 million to overhaul.

    That's 2002.

  • First hand account (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#5079837)
    OK Folks,
    I'm one of the lead programmers of one of the members

    We KNEW this was going to happen a LONG time before November. At the end of the article, they talk about "set a deadline 2 months ahead of the real deadline"

    Guess what? They did!!! They were supposed to be ready for the NJ Primary, which was before the summer - they missed it, BIG TIME - That's when the alarm bells went into overdrive for me

    I understand (This up in the levels above me) that the steering committee didn't realize that the technical committee was saying "We've got a BIG problem"

    Another warning sign was when their test data generator that they sent us in the spring generated XML that didn't match their own XSDs - and that was with all the fields declared as cdata - the field names didn't match

    The first test, which was supposed to be months ahead, came weeks ahead, and even the most basic message (just a heartbeat) didn't work. That's they day I knew it was doomed for sure. Our prime efforts switched to our backup data source at that time. THAT worked fine. I had a boring election night, watching VNS crash, and laughing
  • What happened? (Score:4, Informative)

    by z_gringo ( 452163 ) <z_gringo@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#5079840)
    One stipulation: That the new system use more flexible and current programming languages--Java and the Extensible Markup Language-- rather than OS 390 to gather, compute and deliver data to the media outlets.

    That sounds great. People who have no idea how to accomplish the goal telling the people tasked with doing it, how it should be done. I can't believe it failed. They should have laid out what they wanted to acheive and left the rest up to the designers on how to meet those goals...

    Also, some interesting older information on the VNS can be found a the Votescam [votescam.com] website. Although they seem to have a few extreme views, along with some wild conspiracy theories..

  • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:4, Informative)

    by tetranz ( 446973 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:36AM (#5080462)
    In New Zealand we have pretty much a total political news blackout on election day until the polls close. They can talk about voter turnout estimates etc but nothing much else. Exit polling is illegal. All billboards must be done by midnight before election day. Party volunteers giving rides to elderly people etc to polling places can have coloured ribbons on their cars but no party or candidate names.

    IMHO, these rules all make good sense. For one thing, we don't have billboard trash lying around the roadsides for weeks after an election.

    I remember a radio interview with someone in South Korea the day before their recent election. The interviewer asked 'how was ???? doing in the polls this week?', the answer 'we don't allow polls in the week leading up to an election'.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:40AM (#5080491)
    how about the 30,000 votes for Bush in the panhandle that were never cast because VNS liberals called state for ALGORE while polls were still open?? that was trickery at its worst
  • Re:Aha, so... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:54AM (#5080605)
    Interesting that they were right in 49 other states. Even predicted that New Mexico would go to Shrub. Which it did after he asked for a recount there.
  • Re:Aha, so... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:03AM (#5080703)
    It's not Junior, it's Shrub. And he did finish his MBA.

    AlGore, on the other hand, flunked out of Divinity school in his freshman year at Vanderbildt. And he flunked out of law school, too. And Bill Clinton was not a Rhodes scholar, merely a candidate. He was tossed out of Cambridge after a co-ed charged him with rape.
  • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:4, Informative)

    by markhb ( 11721 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:27AM (#5080982) Journal
    First, the "cast a vote free from the influence of network prognostication" issue is a red herring in the case of the 2002 election, as that only really affects Presidential elections. US networks generally voluntarily refrain from projecting the results from any given state until all or most polls in that state have closed, so particular Congressional races would probably not be affected by early projections.

    But generally, it is important to note that America essentially places no special restrictions on election reporting. With regard to Presidential elections, part of the issue is that the contiguous USA spans four time zones (UTC-5 thru UTC-9), with Alaska and Hawaii extending at least another couple of zones west. Each state (and in many cases lower levels of government) sets its own polling hours for the convenience of its citizens (usually closing c. 8 or 9 Pm local time), so the poll closings roll East to West. Since the Eastern part of the country holds enough electoral votes to elect a President, it is possible for the networks to project a winner before the most populous state (California) finishes voting. Bills to introduce a uniform poll closing time for Presidential elections have been introduced in Congress (notably following the 1980 election which was called for Reagan before 9 Pm EST (UTC -5)), but they have never passed. Florida was hit in the 2000 race by the fact that the western panhandle extends into the Central time zone, and the state had polls close an hour later in that (demographically very different from the southern part of the state) area... so the networks (which at that time were following a "most of the polls have closed" criterion) called the state while people were still voting in Pensacola.

    -- Remainder of my .sig: be the majority of voters.
  • by uw_dwarf ( 611383 ) <wjjordan AT oakencross DOT ca> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:38PM (#5081607)

    Indeed the "old ways" still work. Canada's federal elections are run by an independent federal agency, not by the individual provinces. This allows for uniformity in the voting and counting process. The ballots are sheets of paper, with the candidates listed in alphabetical order by surname, and the party affiliation (if any) printed below each candidate's name. To the right of each name there is an open circle, where you can make any mark you wish (without mutilating the ballot) as long as it does not identify the voter. If you mismark your ballot, or stick your pencil through it, you can ask for another one from the returning officer, who has to mark the incorrect ballot uncountable (not spoiled; that's a separate category) and set it aside. Blind voters can mark their own ballots, because they get a template that shows them where the circles are on the paper. You have the right to submit an unmarked or spoiled ballot.

    When the local poll closes, the deputy returning officer unseals the ballot box, pulls out the ballots one by one, and reads off the name of the candidate the ballot is for. Any scrutineer (candidate-appointed observer) can inspect and challenge any ballot. The ballot is then placed in a pile for that candidate, and challenged ballots are set aside for a judicial inspection and recount if necessary. The votes are tallied by all scrutineers and the poll clerk as they are read, and the counts verified by all observers. Then the sorted piles are counted to validate the tally. Spoiled ballots (unmarked, marked more than once, or identify the voter) get their own tally and pile. Each pile of ballots is placed in an envelope, one for each candidate, the envelopes are sealed, and the seals are signed. Then the envelopes are placed back in the ballot box, which is resealed (with signatures of all scrutineers if they so choose), and returned to the constituency's returning officer for a judicial recount, if required. Once the ballot box has been resealed, the poll's results are phoned in to the candidates' headquarters and the constituency's returning officer. The counting process takes about an hour for each poll. If the consolidated results show a sufficiently narrow margin between the higher-polling candidates, then a full judicial recount is automatic. All the ballot boxes from the constituency are unsealed, the envelopes opened, and the ballots reinspected and recounted by the returning officer and a judge. This, too, is open to scrutiny by the candidates or their agents. (The other candidates may be interested in the recount as well, because it may determine whether they get their nomination fee back for gaining more than 10% of the vote.)

    The first public results are announced shortly after the polls close in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. However, under Canadian election law, these results cannot be reported where the polls are open. Thus television and radio coverage is limited to where the polls are closed, and Canadian-based Internet coverage does not begin until the polls close in British Columbia and Yukon. With staggered polling hours across the country, that's usually three hours after the polls close in Atlantic Canada, with enough extrapolation of reported results to declare a winner usually an hour before that, because of the 176 or so (of 301) seats that come from Ontario and Québec. The key is that the projections are made on real vote tallies, not exit polls and demographic profiles. If something is too close to call, the networks and newspapers won't call it. They will wait until they can make a statistically confident decision.

    It doesn't make the political analysis any more informed or interesting, though. Usually the analysis boils down to one of "Canadians are grumpy," "Canadians are complacent," or "Ontario doesn't think the way the rest of the country does, but their weight carries the vote."

    I may not like the outcome of the process, but that's because I don't usually like the inputs to the process, not the process itself. The process is not completely foolproof, but it is open and verifiable if candidates choose to avail themselves of that openness.

  • Re:Aha, so... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:56PM (#5081733)
    Of course, you realize Halliburton did a lot of business with Saddam when Cheney was running it (http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/6/2 4/80648.shtml).

    And Clinton started "homeland defense" in '99 (http://csmweb2.emcweb.com/durable/1999/01/29/p1s1 .htm).

    And King George II's father didn't finish off Saddam when he had the chance.

    And the US gave the Taliban $43 million in May 2001 (http://www.robertscheer.com/1_natcolumn/01_column s/052201.htm).
  • Re:Oh BooHoo (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cleon ( 471197 ) <cleon42@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @01:12PM (#5081838) Homepage
    Might want to double-check that, especially this one:

    David Souter: appointed by Clinton, 1990

    Clinton was elected in 1992, took office in 1993. The Prez in 1990 was George HW Bush.
  • by freeBill ( 3843 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:15PM (#5082213) Homepage
    ...a company which had GOP connections which was given taxpayer money to eliminate ineligible voters from the voting lists. They explored the possibility of getting lists of convicted felons from other states and crossing those names off the eligible voter lists in Florida. Most states balked at such a process because it was so hard to tell whether the voter was the convicted felon or just somebody with the same name. A small number of states (including Texas, with the biggest list) went along.

    The company told Florida they didn't think the names should be eliminated without adequate safeguards to make sure eligible voters were not eliminated. Florida didn't want to spend the money to verify. So the names were eliminated. The affected voters didn't find out 'til Election Day.

    (Note that the company demonstrated some Republicans are not as corrupt as the Bushes and their cronies.)

    The 2000 election showed that Bush was out of touch with half the voters and Gore was out of touch with half the voters. Democrats were out of touch with Katherine Harris and the U.S. Supreme Court. That's why they lost.

    Anyone who claims the 2000 election was some mandate for their ideas (on either side) deserves to have all their ideas treated with as much respect as the rest of this post deserves.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @03:04PM (#5082483)
    "How exactly did you come to that conclusion?"

    Here's a great informational page: http://unknownnews.diaryland.com/returns.html

    Even without including the Palm Beach ballots or the black vote issue, the final tally was:

    Bush 2,915,426
    Gore 2,915,928

    Yes, it was very close... But Gore actually won.

    THEN, if you start to just examine the Palm Beach/Butterfly issue, and any of the other strange goings on down in Jeb Bush's Florida, the weight tips even more in Gore's favor.

    If we leave those issues to the side, and resort to a "coin flip" mechanism to decide, it would certainly behoove us to remember and consider the indisputable fact that nationally the choice of a majority of American Citizens was for Gore.

    So when all the facts are in, one sees that in every conceivable way, BUSH LOST.
  • by jpallas ( 119914 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @07:01PM (#5083995)
    And Bill Clinton was not a Rhodes scholar, merely a candidate. He was tossed out of Cambridge after a co-ed charged him with rape.

    Ah, I see. So, the Rhodes trust [rhodesscholar.org] mistakenly sent him to Cambridge instead of Oxford, and Oxford [ox.ac.uk] mistakenly claims that he was a Rhodes scholar for the usual two-year term.

    Easy mistakes to make.

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous