Re-installing eSlate firmware to ready for the primary

Burn, baby, burn… Around here, it’s a firmware inferno.

We’ve been hard at work the past couple of days complying with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s new requirement that counties reinstall – or re-burn – all the firmware on our electronic voting equipment before the Feb. 5 Presidential Primary.

Reinstalling firmware on the eSlates

After a Top to Bottom Review of electronic voting systems conducted earlier this year, the requirement is one of 36 that Bowen made in order to allow us to continue using Hart InterCivic’s eSlates while providing greater assurance that your vote is secure.

In the words of the Secretary of State:

Before any use in the February 5,2008, Presidential primary election, jurisdictions must reinstall all software and firmware (including reformatting all hard disk drives and reinstalling the operating system where applicable) on all election management system servers and workstations, voting devices and hardware components of the voting system. Voting system application software must be reinstalled using the currently approved version obtained directly from the federal testing laboratory or the Secretary of State.

Between eSlates, their printers and the Judge’s Booth Controllers – boxes which operate the eSlates and record votes cast on them – we had more than 4,700 pieces of equipment that required firmware re-installation. Add to that our BallotNow machines which scan paper ballots and our computers used to conduct the official vote tally, which also required re-installation, and that’s no quick task.

Reinstalling firmware on the eSlate printers

For us non-technical people, firmware is somewhat equivalent, to say, the Windows operating system or hard drive on your PC. So this is like taking the operating systems or hard drives on 4,700 computers, un-installing them, reinstalling them and then verifying that they work. Yikes.

Testing the Judge’s Booth Controller boxesWe’ve also been going beyond what’s required and are doing some additional testing of the Judge’s Booth Controllers to make sure each of them can properly power up, communicate with an eSlate, accept a sign-in key and properly reset itself.

“We’re giving it good exercise, a good workout, making sure we’re happy it’s going to be used in the next election,” said Andy Voloktin, who is heading up the firmware re-burning.

Through this re-burning process, problems are discovered on a small number of machines, which is to be expected with any kind of electronic equipment. Voloktin guessed the number is less than one percent.

“Things which don’t pass muster, we have to send back (to Hart) and get it fixed,” Voloktin said. 

But for the vast majority of equipment pieces that do pass, with the new firmware installed, they’ll be secured and locked up until it’s time to start preparing for the February primary.

eSlates readied for final inspection

That isn’t far off at all.

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One response to “Re-installing eSlate firmware to ready for the primary

  1. I don’t find that “Through this re-burning process, problems are discovered on a small number of machines, which is to be expected with any kind of electronic equipment. Voloktin guessed the number is less than one percent.” is reasonable at all. I was a designer of electronic equipment before I retired and a 1% annual failure rate was definitely considered not acceptable.

    We seem to live in a throw-away society now, but that won’t stay that way for long. We need to start buying equipment that has a lifetime measured in decades since the earth’s resources are finite.

    I wonder, what was the failure rate for our old, clutzy Eagle machines?

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