Ramblings & ephemera

More problems with voting, election 2008

From Ian Urbina’s “High Turnout May Add to Problems at Polling Places” (The New York Times: 3 November 2008):

Two-thirds of voters will mark their choice with a pencil on a paper ballot that is counted by an optical scanning machine, a method considered far more reliable and verifiable than touch screens. But paper ballots bring their own potential problems, voting experts say.

The scanners can break down, leading to delays and confusion for poll workers and voters. And the paper ballots of about a third of all voters will be counted not at the polling place but later at a central county location. That means that if a voter has made an error — not filling in an oval properly, for example, a mistake often made by the kind of novice voters who will be flocking to the polls — it will not be caught until it is too late. As a result, those ballots will be disqualified.

About a fourth of voters will still use electronic machines that offer no paper record to verify that their choice was accurately recorded, even though these machines are vulnerable to hacking and crashes that drop votes. The machines will be used by most voters in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Eight other states, including Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina, will use touch-screen machines with no paper trails.

Florida has switched to its third ballot system in the past three election cycles, and glitches associated with the transition have caused confusion at early voting sites, election officials said. The state went back to using scanned paper ballots this year after touch-screen machines in Sarasota County failed to record any choice for 18,000 voters in a fiercely contested House race in 2006.

Voters in Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia have reported using touch-screen machines that at least initially registered their choice for the wrong candidate or party.

Most states have passed laws requiring paper records of every vote cast, which experts consider an important safeguard. But most of them do not have strong audit laws to ensure that machine totals are vigilantly checked against the paper records.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner sued the maker of the touch-screen equipment used in half of her state’s 88 counties after an investigation showed that the machines “dropped” votes in recent elections when memory cards were uploaded to computer servers.

A report released last month by several voting rights groups found that eight of the states using touch-screen machines, including Colorado and Virginia, had no guidance or requirement to stock emergency paper ballots at the polls if the machines broke down.

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