UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: ES&S optical scan machines prone to loss of data due to battery failures

October 8, 2010
Tigran Antonyan, Nicolas Nicolaou, Alexander A. Shvartsman, Therese Smith


Optical scan (OS) voting systems play an increasing role in the United States elections, with over 40 states deploying such systems. The AccuVote optical scanners (AV-OS) manufactured by ES&S account for over 20% of all OS systems. OS systems typically use removable media (cards) to provide election-specific programming to the scanners and to convey precinct election results for central tabulation. Several reports document occurrences of AV-OS memory card failures, with up to 15% of all cards failing in some cases.

This paper reports on determining the causes of memory card failures that lead to complete loss of data from the card. An initial experimental analysis identified the battery discharge as a significant part of the problem. This finding led to the question of the dependability of the built-in function of the AccuVote OS system that issues a warning when the memory card contains a low voltage battery. We identified the components used to implement this function in one type of AccuVote memory card. Using the specifications of the commodity batteries that are used in these cards, we determined the time interval from the instant when a battery warning is issued by the AccuVote to the point when the battery does not have enough voltage to retain data on the memory card. We show that such interval is about 2 weeks. Thus timely warnings cannot be provided to protect against battery discharge and loss of data during the election process. The factors contributing to the short warning interval are likely to apply to other battery-backed RAM cards, such as those used in the ES&S Model 100. Recommendations for mitigating the problem are made in light of the expected behavior of the warning system.