Top 9 election-tech debacles in the history of democracy

As most of the U.S.A. learned in the fall of 2000, election technology is far from foolproof. That's why DVICE embarked in a months-long effort to investigate all election technology currently in use in the country, putting all the data on an interactive map.

But before and since the 2000 election, voting tech has been blamed in screwing up the results of several tight races in democracies the world over. As long as there are ballots, whatever's counting them will have a chance to get it wrong. The good news? Most of the screw-ups weren't malicious. We think.

Follow the Continue link below for our list of the 9 worst debacles in democratic history where technology played a role.

1. Volusia County, Florida, 2000
This was the election disaster hear 'round the world. Volusia County used Diebold's AccuVote OS in the tight race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Gore was leading by 21,000 votes statewide until the 216th precinct in Volusia County weighed in. Gore's overall state lead suddenly dropped, because a precinct with 585 registered voters had given Bush 2,813 votes and Gore negative 16,022. Television networks called Florida, and the election, for Bush. The county did correct the error, counting 22 votes for Bush and 193 for Gore, and Gore retracted his concession when the scope of voting issues across Florida became apparent. Though the machines were allegedly sealed, computer expert Harri Hursti went to Florida's Leon County in 2005 to show how someone could manipulate the AccuVote's software via the memory card used to transfer voting data and count negative votes for a candidate.

2. Palm Beach County, Florida, 2000
The home of the infamous butterfly ballot of 2000 became the sharp stylus poked through the heart of punch-card voting in general. This was a classic ballot-layout debacle — choices for the presidential race were on either side of the guide that you would push your stylus through to puncture the card. Bush/Cheney was above Gore/Lieberman on the left, while the Reform Party's Buchanan/Foster ticket was on top on the right. Votes cast for Gore/Lieberman — which appeared as the "second" choice to those just reading the left-hand side — may have been inadvertently cast for Buchanan/Foster. Then, once the recount started, there was the hanging chad issue — and several of the nation's finest legal minds and largest mouths gathered together to divine whether or not a hanging chad, or a dimpled chad, or perhaps merely a pregnant chad, was indeed a vote. Not coincidentally, punch-card machines have been junked en masse since 2000, with just a few Idaho counties still using them this year.

3. The Netherlands, 2006
The Netherlands, like a lot of European countries, used Nedap's ES3B electronic voting machines for its national elections in 2006. But after that vote, the activist group "Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet" ("We do not trust voting machines" in English) demonstrated on Dutch television how the ES3B machines could be manipulated in five minutes, similar to the "Hursti Hack," and neither voters nor election officials would be any the wiser. In 2007, the Dutch government decertified all electronic voting and reverted to paper ballots. The Irish government also purchased 7,500 Nedap machines in 2003 but hasn't used them due to these security concerns. However, all is not lost for Nedap. They've struck up a partnership with Liberty Election Systems in the U.S., and now New York State is contemplating buying 28,000 of the machines.

4. Ohio, 2004
Ohio in 2004 was in the same position as Florida in 2000 — it would decide the Electoral College vote and therefore the president. And by all accounts, it was ugly all around, with questionable voting technology, allegations of voter suppression, and a little recount sneakiness thrown in for good measure. Democrats allege that 357,000 voters were not able or allowed to cast their votes in precincts that leaned towards their party, blaming registrant challenges and long waits in the rain at precincts with too few machines. Electronic machines recorded bizarre turnout percentages — 98% in one precinct favoring President Bush, 7% in one favoring Democratic challenger John Kerry. In a recount requested by third-party candidates, where random ballots are supposed to be chosen from random counties, three election officials were investigated for preselecting the ballots, allegedly to ensure the recount would look the same.

5. 13th Congressional District, Florida, 2006
The Sunshine State was back at it again two years ago, with the main culprit this time being bad ballot design. Republican Vern Buchanan was certified as having beat Democrat Christine Jennings by 369 votes, declared the winner a mandatory recount and analysis of alleged voting-machine errors in the race. The biggest complaint was that in Democratic-leaning Sarasota County, over 18,000 ballots, or about 1 in 6 cast, didn't show a vote for the congressional race. Voters had complained about the ballot layout on the iVotronic touchscreen machines used, and Sarasota County has since moved to optical-scan machines as a result of a 2006 referendum vote. An independent statistical study done in 2008 showed that ballot layout onscreen likely caused the undervote.

6. Quebec, Canada, 1995
Canada's restive French-speaking province voted on independence, and after a bitter campaign, the end results were very close, 50.6% saying no to 49.4% saying yes to separation. But even today, the Canadian system relies on hand-marked paper ballots, and that means it comes down to who decides your X is really an X. Investigations by the province's director general of elections afterwards showed that there were "irregularities" in how "no" votes were rejected, especially in some English-speaking districts around Montreal. Three scrutineers were sued by the director general, but they were ultimately acquitted, including one who rejected an astonishing 53% of votes cast at his "no"-leaning polling station. The court said that the scrutineers had committed no criminal acts nor was there a systematic plan to steal votes — they had just chosen the most precise way to count the votes within parameters of what defined a correct handmade mark on the ballot.

7. New Mexico, 2004 and 2006
Here the issue was undervoting — failing to make a selection on a ballot — and how a change in technology improved it. A post-election report found that the undervote rate in the 2004 presidential election in precincts using electronic touchscreen machines with large numbers of Hispanic and Native American voters was abnormally high, almost 7%. By contrast, Anglo precincts using both electronic and optical scan machines had similar undervotes of about 2% on both types of machine. New Mexico switched completely over to AIS Model 100 optical-scan machines for the 2006 gubernatorial race, and the undervote rates in those same precincts plummeted by 85% in Native American areas and by 69% in predominantly Hispanic areas.

8. New Hampshire, 2008
The Diebold boogeyman reared its head again in this year's Democratic primaries in New Hampshire. Barack Obama went into the state with a lead in the polls after winning in Iowa, but Hillary Clinton prevailed, 40% to 37%. About three-quarters of the state's precincts use Diebold optical-scan machines to scan ballots, while the remainder is hand-counted. In machine-counted precincts, Clinton beat Obama by almost 5%, while in hand-counted precincts, Obama beat Clinton by over 4%, more closely matching polling done before the primary. A partial recount funded by then-candidate Dennis Kucinich found that the results were legitimate. But problems with the machines reported in several counties, as well as state election officials admitting that employees of Diebold's sole vendor in the state had access to the machines during polling hours, means there will be a lot of eyes on results in this swing state again this November.

9. Texas, 2008
This year's election in Texas is showing early signs of a recurring issue with electronic touchscreen machines: straight-vote miscounts. If you decide to vote for a party versus individual candidates, you can pick the straight vote option and you're done. Except several voters in one county tried picking the Democratic ticket — and saw it switch to Republican in front of their eyes. Straight-party vote-flipping has already occurred during early voting on two different electronic machine: the ES&S iVotronic in Dallas and the Hart InterCivic eSlate in Houston. Similar issues were found sporadically elsewhere, even in other states, including Tennessee and West Virginia.