Wayne County Voter Website Disaster | Michigan Web Design | Artonic
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When Websites Fail: Behind the Wayne County Voter Website Disaster

“We are experiencing some issues currently with the website. Please check back at a later time.” This was the message that greeted visitors to Wayne County’s website on August 8, 2018. At that time, Wayne County residents sought election results from the Wayne County Clerk’s office, which is a section on the Wayne County website.

Wayne County Website experiences technical issues.
Wayne County Website

On August 9,  2018, the election results were still unavailable to the community. The reason was the election software the County Clerk’s office used on its website to tabulate results: ElectionSource.

ElectionSource, a company from Grand Rapids, Michigan, sells voting equipment and supplies on its website. In addition to supplies, the company sells “powerful election software such as Democracy Suite and CMS – Candidate Management System.”

ElectionSource Website promotes its software.

It is likely that the team from Wayne County Clerk’s office used Democracy Suite. ElectionSource claims this voting sofware is “the most powerfully simple and elegant election management software in the industry.”

Wayne County probably doesn’t agree.

News-Herald from Southgate, Michigan, noted the community’s reduced trust in the website and County Clerk’s office: “Though vote tabulation was never impacted, members of the commission said the mistakes caused the public to question the integrity of the voting process.” (source)

The next election took place November 6, 2018, but ElectionSource software had already been removed from the website. The County Clerk’s office offered PDFs of voter results instead of real-time results.

So what happened? Why did Wayne County’s website fail? Let’s look at a timeline of events:


MAR 1, 2017

Dominion Voting Systems Inc. is listed as a Michigan State Contractor. Contract Summary: “Voting System Hardware, firmware, software and service.” (source)

The Current Value is listed at $20,600,000.00.

Effective March 28, 2018, this Contract is increased by $2,700,000.00 for Department of State use. Please note the Program Manager has been changed to David Tarrant. All other terms, conditions, specifications and pricing remain the same. Per contractor and agency agreement, DTMB Procurement approval, and State Administrative Board approval on January 24, 2017.

Contract #071B7700117 notes the intended products and services offered by ElectionSource:

Project Management and Product Implementation:

The Lead Project Team Manager is a key part of ElectionSource’s organizational structure. The Lead Project Team Manager will work with Dominion to coordinate the shipping of equipment and software for each jurisdiction. The Lead Project Manager will then turn over coordination of setup and training of voting equipment to the County assigned Project Managers who will then oversee this process.

Our County Project Managers will work with each county to develop and implement a plan that best suits the needs of all the municipalities within the county. ElectionSource will then provide progress reports to each of the counties on a regular basis. Our County Project Managers will work with all our team leaders and support technicians to provide the necessary training and support needed by each county. Their goal is to provide a level of training that will allow the municipalities to be self-sufficient needing only minimal support from our technicians.

Other activities provided by subcontractor, but not limited to, are:

  • Equipment Training
  • EMS/Software Training
  • On-site Election Day Support
  • Programming/Coding Support
  • Consultations
  • Computer Equipment Set-Up/Installation
  • Maintenance
  • Acceptance Testing
  • Election Data Delivery
  • Equipment Installation

MAR 25, 2018

A change order is submitted. Hart InterCivic, Inc. is contracted by State of Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.

“Effective June 6, 2018, the following change is made to Schedule A, Statement of Work Contract Activities: Section 3.3 Disclosure of Subcontractors is changed to read, per attached. All other terms, conditions, specifications, and pricing remain the same. Per Contractor and agency agreement, and DTMB Procurement approval.” (https://www.michigan.gov/documents/localgov/7700128_557504_7.pdf)

The Current Value of the contract is listed at $11,700,000.00.

In the online document states that Hart InterCivic, Inc (“The Contractor”), “intends to utilize the following subcontractor to fulfill the requirements of this Contract.” The subcontractor listed in ElectionSource. Also noted on the contract: “The Contractor has had no previous working experience with the subcontractor, therefore developed a Memorandum of Understanding.”

AUG 7, 2018

A record number of voters turn out for the election in Wayne County. ElectionSource “Democracy Suite” voting software fails to produce real-time results. According to one source, “the site initially reported the results of some races wrong before shutting the site down altogether for a few hours.”

AUG 8, 2018

The day after the election, the voting page for Wayne County Clerk’s office continues to show this message: “We are experiencing some issues currently with the website. Please check back at a later time.”

Wayne County Says:

The Detroit News reports that “Wayne County spokeswoman Lisa Williams-Jackson” e-mailed The Detroit News early Wednesday morning, and claimed that “the issue was with the vendor’s server and web display, ‘which was causing reporting fluctuations.'” Although the results were fluctuating online, the ballot tabulations remained correct, according to Williams-Jackson’s e-mail.

The county resolves the issue by uploading “Unofficial Summary Reports” on its website in the form of PDF files.

ElectionSource Says:

President of Grand Rapids-based ElectionSource, Jeffrey DeLongchamp, says the results fluctuated due to the large file size containing Wayne County results. He said the file was so “large that it caused a 15-second delay in processing old and new data. This caused results to be doubled at times.”

Additionally, The Detroit News reports that “DeLongchamp said his team resolved the issue and as of 1:15 a.m. Wednesday he was waiting for Wayne County to give him permission to reload the election results.”

Despite DeLongchamp’s claims that the website was working by 1:15 a.m., Wayne County officials asked the company to keep it down. (source)

Wayne County Commissioner says:

Wayne County Commission vice chair pro tempore Jewel Ware calls for an investigation. She states that the website glitches are “extremely problematic as the voting process should be error-free as well as voters should know the process is without issues.” (source)

Mark Brewer tweets:

“The incompetence of the Wayne County Clerk’s office in election after election is appalling and unacceptable; how can any voter have confidence that his or her vote is counted and reported accurately with such bumbling?”

AUG 9, 2018

Two days following the election snafu, members of the House Detroit Caucus mails a letter to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. The letter demands an “audit of Tuesday’s primary election results in light of issues at polling stations in Wayne County during the primary.” (source)

AUG 13, 2018

Wayne County Board of Canvassers meets to discuss the election failure.

ElectionSource Says:

During the meeting, DeLongchamp says “the Wayne County Clerk’s Office did not play any role in the glitch and the problem was all on ElectionSource’s end.” (source)

Detroit City Council Member Says:

Mary Sheffiled, Detroit City Council Member, says, “There needs to be more answers as to exactly what happened. And then how do we avoid this in the future? I mean, we’re in a new age of technology. There’s no reason a site should have to crash because there’s too much [election] data coming in.” (source)

There were “several issues that really just make it more of a reason why people don’t vote,” Sheffield said.

Detroit Delegation in Lansing Says:

“Dismissing the aforementioned disenfranchisements as glitches is unacceptable, as it erodes public trust that the fundamental rights of citizens are not being protected.” (source)

SEPT 6, 2018

Wayne County Commission holds a meeting to question election officials about the disastrous results of the August 8 election. At the end of the meeting, the Wayne County Clerk’s office does not determine if they will continue to use ElectionSource. The News Herald reports, “A meeting was scheduled for that evening to discuss it, but officials noted a dearth of options at a similar cost.” (source)

During the meeting, director of elections for Wayne County, Greg Mahar, explains the reason for the website failure:

“Due to federal certification (laws), an election system cannot be connected to the outside world, to the internet,” he said. “So what happens is we have to download a special file from the election management system and then go to a separate computer that is hooked up to the internet and upload it to the ElectionSource website … then their software displays the results from that file.” (source)

SEPT 11, 2018

The Wayne County Clerks office confirms via e-mail that ElectionSource will be used in the November elections. “Upon careful consideration and review, the Wayne County Clerk’s Office will continue to use ElectionSource for the November 2018 general election,” Lisa Williams-Jackson, director of communications for the Wayne County Clerk’s office, writes in the e-mail. (source)

OCT 16, 2018

Motherboard, , posts an electrifying article about the vulnerability of voting machines in Michigan, titled, “Security Seals Used to Protect Voting Machines Can Be Easily Opened With Shim Crafted from a Soda Can.”

In the article, Matt Bernhard, a grad student at the University of Michigan and voting machine security expert, discusses the ease with which he can manipulate voting machines. He even has multiple videos where he shows how he opens different kinds of “plastic tamper-evident ties used in Michigan” in a matter of seconds.

“I’ve heard a lot of election officials claim that the voting machines are safe because they’re not connected to the internet and because they’re sealed with tamper-evident seals,” Bernhard said. “But the seals aren’t tamper-evident… I don’t think election officials have ever thought about how their seals could be tampered with without their knowing.” (source)

This connects to ElectionSource in the following way: Bernhard found the types of seals and certificates used to secure Michigan’s election equipment and ballots on the Secretary of State’s website.

He then ordered two types of election seals, several paper seals, tamper-evident stickers, and election certificates from ElectionSource’s website. Bernhard said ElectionSource failed to inquire as to whom the seals were delivered. They did not ask why the items were needed nor did they ensure the transaction was to an authorized election official.

“Election Source didn’t ask him why he needed the items or conduct due diligence to ensure it was only selling to authorized election officials.” – Motherboard, October 16, 2018

The article shows a glaring issue for Michigan voters – voting machines are highly vulnerable to manipulation. They can be accessed by the public, election seals can be purchased online, and security ties can be cut (even steel locks can be easily opened in about 5 minutes, Bernhard notes.)

NOV 1, 2018

The Detroit News reports that Wayne County officials “are dumping” ElectionSource – only days before the November election.

Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett states, “Less than a few days before the election, ElectionSource has not completed the improvements and at this late juncture we are not going to utilize something that we haven’t been able to thoroughly test.” (source)

NOV 2, 2018

Mark Brewer tweets:

“Only the Wayne County Clerk’s office can mismanage incompetence 4 days before the most consequential election in decades.”

NOV 6, 2018

Election Day sees a record number of voters in Wayne County. Despite ditching ElectionSource days before the election, Wayne County voters still experienced technical issues at the polls. Machines in Wayne County “froze” among other snafus. (source)

NOV 7, 2018

USA Today reports: “Higher turnout exacerbated problems such as long lines and voting-machine malfunctions at states including Georgia, Arizona, Florida, New York, Michigan and Texas.” (source)

What’s Next for Wayne County Voters?

It remains to be seen what Wayne County does regarding voting machines, software, election day support, and maintenance moving forward.

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