disability

The latest on electronic voting machines

From James Turner’s interview with Dr. Barbara Simons, past President of the Association for Computing Machinery & recent appointee to the Advisory Board of the Federal Election Assistance Commission, at “A 2008 e-Voting Wrapup with Dr. Barbara Simons” (O’Reilly Media: 7 November 2008):

[Note from Scott: headers added by me]

Optical Scan: Good & Bad

And most of the voting in Minnesota was done on precinct based optical scan machines, paper ballot which is then fed into the optical scanner at the precinct. And the good thing about that is it gives the voter immediate feedback if there is any problem, such as over-voting, voting twice for a candidate.

Well there’s several problems; one is–well first of all, as you say because these things have computers in them they can be mis-programmed, there can be software bugs. You could conceivably have malicious code. You could have the machines give you a different count from the right one. There was a situation back in the 2004 race where Gephardt in one of the Primaries–Gephardt received a large number of votes after he had withdrawn from the race. And this was done–using paper ballots, using optical scan paper ballots. I don’t know if it was this particular brand or not. And when they were recounted it was discovered that in fact that was the wrong result; that he had gotten fewer votes. Now I never saw an explanation for what happened but my guess is that whoever programmed these machines had mistakenly assigned the slot that was for Kerry to Gephardt and the slot that was for Gephardt to Kerry; that’s my guess. Now I don’t know if that’s true but if that did happen I think there’s very little reason to believe it was malicious because there was really nothing to be gained by doing that. So I think it was just an honest error but of course errors can occur.

DRE Studies

Ohio conducted a major study of electronic voting machines called the Everest Study which was commissioned by the current Secretary of State Bruner, Secretary of State Bruner and this study uncovered huge problems with these–with most of these voting systems, these touch screen voting systems. They were found to be insecure, unreliable, difficult to use; basically a similar study had been studied in California not too much earlier called the Top to Bottom Review and the Ohio study confirmed every–all of the problems that had been uncovered in California and found additional problems, so based on that there was a push to get rid of a lot of these machines.

States Using DREs

Maryland and Georgia are entirely touch screen States and so is New Jersey. In Maryland they’re supposed to replace them with optical scan paper ballots by 2010 but there’s some concern that there may not be the funding to do that. In fact Maryland and Georgia both use Diebold which is now called Premier, paperless touch screen voting machines; Georgia started using them in 2002 and in that race, that’s the race in which Max Cleveland, the Democratic Senator, paraplegic from–the Vietnam War Vet was defeated and I know that there are some people who questioned the outcome of that race because the area polls had showed him winning. And because that race–those machines are paperless there was no way to check the outcome. Another thing that was of a concern in Maryland in 2002 was that–I mean in Georgia in 2002 was that there were last minute software patches being added to the machines just before the Election and the software patches hadn’t really been inspected by any kind of independent agency.

More on Optical Scans

Well I think scanned ballots–well certainly scanned ballots give you a paper trail and they give you a good paper trail. The kind of paper trail you want and it’s not really a paper trail; it’s paper ballots because they are the ballots. What you want is you want it to be easy to audit and recount an election. And I think that’s something that really people hadn’t taken into consideration early on when a lot of these machines were first designed and purchased.

Disabilities

One of the things that was investigated in California when they did the Top to Bottom Review was just how easy is it for people with disabilities to use these touch screen machines? Nobody had ever done that before and these test results came back very negatively. If you look at the California results they’re very negative on these touch screen machines. In many cases people in wheelchairs had a very difficult time being able to operate them correctly, people who were blind sometimes had troubles understanding what was being said or things were said too loudly or too softly or they would get confused about the instructions or some of the ways that they had for manual inputting; their votes were confusing.

There is a–there are these things called Ballot Generating Devices which are not what we generally refer to as touch screen machines although they can be touch screen. The most widely used one is called the Auto Mark. And the way the Auto Mark works is you take a paper ballots, one of these optical scan ballots and you insert it into the Auto Mark and then it operates much the same way that these other paperless–potentially paperless touch screen machines work. It has a headphone–headset so that a blind voter can use it; it has–it’s possible for somebody in a wheelchair to vote, although in fact you don’t have to use this if you’re in a wheelchair; you can vote optical scan clearly. Somebody who has severe mobility impairments can vote on these machines using a sip, puff device where if you sip it’s a zero or one and if you puff it’s the opposite or a yes or a no. And these–the Auto Mark was designed with disability people in mind from early on. And it faired much better in the California tests. What it does is at the end when the voter with disabilities is finished he or she will say okay cast my ballot. At that point the Auto Mark simply marks the optical scan ballot; it just marks it. And then you have an optical scan ballot that can be read by an optical scanner. There should be no problems with it because it’s been generated by a machine. And you have a paper ballot that can be recounted.

Problems with DREs vs Optical Scans

One of the things to keep in–there’s a couple things to keep in mind when thinking about replacing these systems. The first is that these direct recording electronic systems or touch screen systems as they’re called they have to have–the States and localities that buy these systems have to have maintenance contracts with the vendors because they’re very complicated systems to maintain and of course the software is a secret. So some of these contracts are quite costly and these are ongoing expenses with these machines. In addition, because they have software in them they have to be securely stored and they have to be securely delivered and those create enormous problems especially when you have to worry about delivering large numbers of machines to places prior to the election. Frequently these machines end up staying in people’s garages or in churches for periods of time when they’re relatively insecure.

And you need far fewer scanners; the security issues with scanners are not as great because you can do an audit and a recount, so altogether it just seems to me that moving to paper based optical scan systems with precinct scanners so that the voter gets feedback on the ballot if the voter votes twice for President; the ballot is kicked out and the voter can vote a new ballot.

And as I say there is the Auto Mark for voters with disabilities to use; there’s also another system called Populex but that’s not as widely used as Auto Mark. There could be new systems coming forward.

1/2 of DREs Broken in Pennsylvania on Election Day

Editor’s Note: Dr. Simons wrote me later to say: “Many Pennsylvania polling places opened on election day with half or more of their voting machines broken — so they used emergency paper ballots until they could fix their machines.”

3500 forgotten cans

From “Mental Health Association of Portland“:

Over 3,500 copper canisters like these hold the cremated remains of patients of the Oregon State Hospital that went unclaimed by their families and friends. They sit on shelves in an abandoned building on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital. They symbolize the loneliness, isolation, shame and despair too many patients of the hospital experienced.

Our members are helping find a final resting place for the remains. We have helped families find their lost relatives. We’re pressing the hospital and the state to create a suitable memorial. We’ve demanded former, current and future patients be advised and consulted about the creation of a memorial, its site, design and any ceremony.

oregon_cans.jpg

From The New York Times‘ “Long-Forgotten Reminders Of the Mentally Ill in Oregon”:

Next to the old mortuary, where the dead were once washed and prepared for burial or cremation, is a locked room without a name.

Inside the room, in a dim and dusty corner of one of many abandoned buildings on the decaying campus of the Oregon State Hospital here, are 3,489 copper urns, the shiny metal dull and smeared with corrosion, the canisters turning green.

The urns hold the ashes of mental patients who died here from the late 1880’s to the mid-1970’s. The remains were unclaimed by families who had long abandoned their sick relatives, when they were alive and after they were dead.

The urns have engraved serial numbers pressed into the tops of the cans. The lowest number on the urns still stored in the room is 01, the highest 5,118. Over the decades, about 1,600 families have reclaimed urns containing their relatives’ ashes, but those left are lined up meticulously on wood shelves. Short strips of masking tape with storage information are affixed to each shelf: ”Vault #2, Shelf #36, plus four unmarked urns,” one piece of tattered tape says.

Most of the labels that once displayed the full names of the dead patients have been washed off by water damage or peeled away by time. Still, a few frayed labels are legible: among the urns stored on one shelf are a Bess, a Ben and an Andrew.

What would it be like to feel no pain?

From CNN’s “World without pain is hell, parent says“:

Roberto is one of 17 people in the United States with “congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis,” referred to as CIPA by the few people who know about it. …

Other abnormalities quickly surfaced. Roberto was severely susceptible to heatstroke on hot summer days. His parents soon noticed he did not sweat.

“You can’t carry Roberto because he sucks your heat from your body. You’re hot, sweaty. His body can’t sweat like yours so he’s just absorbing all of your heat,” Stingley-Salazar said.

His family was shocked when Roberto started teething. He gnawed on his own tongue, lips and fingers to the point of mutilation. …

Axelrod has studied this family of “no-pain” diseases for more than 35 years. These genetic disorders affect the autonomic nervous system — which controls blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, the sensory nerve system and the ability to feel pain and temperature. …

CIPA is the most severe and fatal type of the seven types of hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy, or HSAN. Overheating kills more than half of all children with CIPA before age 3, Stingley-Salazar said.

According to Axelrod, levels of pain vary.

“For some children it’s a mild degree such as breaking a leg, they’ll get up and walk on the leg. They feel that something is uncomfortable but they keep on moving,” she said. “For other children, the pain loss is so severe that they can injure themselves repetitively and actually mutilate themselves because they don’t know when to stop.”

All HSAN disorders are recessive genetic disorders — both parents have to carry the genetic mutation in order to pass it on to a child. But there is less than a 1-in-4 chance that the child will develop it. …

A more common HSAN condition is familial dysautonomia, or FD. There are about 500 cases of FD in the United States, Axelrod said.

The first sign of FD is a child’s inability to suck properly followed by delayed milestones — these children walk and speak later.

Often, FD patients endure severely dry eyes because they are unable to produce tears.

Also, part of this sensory disorder is difficulty “telling where they are in space,” Axelrod said.

The minor effect is constantly bumping into things. The major effect is that 80 percent of these kids suffer curvature of the spine because they have no concept of posture.

Great Freudian slip story

From Plastic:

When my son was about 4, I took him to the swimming pool at the local YMCA. In the locker room was a one-legged man getting dressed. He was sitting right next to where my locker was so we had to share the bench.

My son was naturally curious about his missing leg and kept staring at the man. My son’s curiosity made me nervous. The man might not like being scrutinized so closely (though, in hindsight, it was probably no big deal and he might have even enjoyed the wonder in the eyes of a 4-year old).

To distract my son I started chattering away with him as I was dialing the combination to open my lock. The lock was old and cranky and it wouldn’t open on the first try. With absolutely no planning or intention, I blurted out, ‘This lock is on its last leg.’

I could have sank though the floor.