Voting Machines and Working At The Polls

One of the things I have learned from working at the polls on election day for the last couple of elections is the way they safeguard the ballots. There are fairly extensive procedures for making sure that all of the ballots are accounted for and only those ballots marked by actual voters are counted.

In California’s San Mateo County they use optical scanning equipment. The voter is given a paper ballot. The voter marks the ballot by completing a thick line next to the choice the voter is to make. For example, for the recall there are two choices, YES and NO. The voter sees something like the following:

YES  

NO The voter uses a special pen to connect the line next to the voter's choice.

Before the ballot can go into the ballot box, it passes through a scanning machine. If there are any problems with the ballot, like an overvote or an incorrectly marked choice, perhaps by circling instead of drawing the line or writing in a name as well as marking it -- problems like we heard about in Florida -- the ballot is rejected and the voter has the opportunity to try again. If the ballot is accepted it drops into a locked ballot box and can be used in a "hand count" to check whether the machine correctly tabulated the voters' choices.

When the polls close there are special procedures for making sure that only the voters' choices are counted. There are several "judges" who must independently verify several things. The number of ballots received before the polls opened must match the number voted, spoiled or remaining to be voted. The number voted must match the number of signatures from voters who showed up and voted. The marked ballots are guarded using special procedures, and are taken to the central counting location in one car with another judge in ANOTHER car following to make sure that those ballots make it there with no funny business along the way. Many other procedures are in place to guard against any kind of fraud or mistake.

Having experienced all of these procedures makes it all the more difficult for me to understand how any voting machine company would even THINK of trying to sell a voting machine that did not allow the voters a way to ascertain that their votes are correctly tabulated! How could they even imagine that any election official would do anything but laugh at the idea of purchasing and using such a machine? By the same token, it is inconceivable that any county election official would EVER have allowed such machines to be used!

Yet, we have voting machine companies that refuse to offer -- and receive the extra revenue for -- voting machines that provide the voter with a ballot they can look at that is clearly marked with their choices. And we have election officials who accept these machines and tell the voters to "just trust us."

It is my opinion that any election official that shows so little respect for the sanctity of the voting process that they would accept a machine that does not allow the voter a way to be sure that their vote is correctly counted and backed up should not be allowed to continue in that office! That official is in the wrong line of work, and needs to go be a realtor or something.

Fortunately, awareness of this issue is spreading. People are learning of the dangers of these new electronic voting machines that do not have a way for the voter to double-check that their choices are correctly tabulated. Already enough people are aware of the problem that I do not expect that election results from these machines will be accepted. Soon I expect that the public will demand that their election officials respect the need for procedures that reassure the public that their votes are correctly counted. Just telling the public to trust the machines is not enough.