Voting machine issues and the confusion they caused compounded the delays faced by untold thousands of voters this fall.
This article was posted at AlterNet and is reposted here with permission of the author.
The electronic voting problems in the 2008 election are broader than
recently-publicized snafus such as machines not turning on, voter
databases omitting names, or touch screens not properly recording
votes, according to an analysis of 1,700 incident reports from the
nation's largest voter hotline.
Moreover, the voting machine
issues and the confusion they caused among poll workers appear to have
compounded the delays faced by untold thousands of voters this fall, a
preliminary analysis of 1-800-OUR-VOTE reports by Joseph Lorenzo Hall,
a researcher at Princeton University and the University of California,
"If we can do anything to improve the experience of
the average voter facing a machine problem, it should be reduce the
amount of time they spend in line," Hall wrote
this week, adding that voters who had machine problems and got back-up
paper ballots often were not confident that their votes would count.
curious feature of the data is the voters' uniformly negative attitudes
toward contingency or back-up plans," he said. "Voters are often upset
Hall's analysis is one of the first
assessments to look at electronic voting in the 2008 fall election.
Many voting rights groups have said the biggest problems this year were
inaccurate voter registration records, not enough early voting sites,
and planning that did not accommodate high turnout. Hall's findings
suggest that the voting machinery used exacerbated these very issues.
1700 Incident Reports
During early voting and on Election Day, the Election Protection Coalition,
which had a volunteer staff of 10,000 lawyers, received calls via a
national hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE. The calls were notated, categorized
and posted on
OurVoteLive.org. Of 86,000 calls received this fall, about 1,900 -- or
2.2 percent -- were about the machines. Two-thirds were registration
and polling place inquiries.
There were 1,700 incidents after
eliminating duplicates, Hall said. These calls generally did not
involve problems encountered later Tuesday night during the vote count,
he said in an e-mail. In contrast, the Democratic National Committee's
election protection team monitoring machine issues, including the
count, recorded "thousands" of incidents, a volunteer on that team said.
most common voter hotline complaints were "about broken machinery, long
lines, long waits to vote and reports of emergency ballots being used
instead of the normal mode of voting," Hall said. "However, there are
some interesting features from these reports."
and electronic poll book bottlenecks -- where voters check in before
voting -- lead to many delays, Hall said. He cited a report from
Atlanta where all 15 voting machines in a polling place had stopped
working, and a New York City report of one poll book for hundreds of
voters. A shortage of e-poll book laptops was reported in Georgia,
while in Maryland poll workers could not get their electronic voting
systems up and running, he said, citing typical complaints.
surprise, Hall said, was that the delays in voting did not just come
with checking in voters -- but with voters wanting to run their ballots
through vote-count scanners. "We have reports of people waiting in line
for 3 hours in New Jersey, 3.5 hours in Georgia, 5 hours in Ohio, 6
hours in Missouri," he said. "In many cases, long lines were
exacerbated by voters insisting on feeding their own ballot into an
optical scan machine, despite it taking a long time to service or
replace the affected equipment."
Hall said he was "very
encouraged to see that in most cases, emergency ballots were
available," though he noted that in Virginia some precincts ran out of
back-up ballots. "What I didn't count on was that voters consider
voting via an emergency ballot to be fundamentally suspect; that is,
most were worried that their vote wouldn't count if cast via emergency
Poll workers compounded this issue, he said, by
confusing back-up and provisional ballots. The latter are used for
unlisted voters and must be verified to count.
"We saw cases in
at least two states where poll workers were refusing to hand out
emergency ballots despite significant machine failures," he said
referring to New York and Pennsylvania. "In one case a caller claimed
that voters in line were "fighting with poll workers" over emergency
ballots," he said. In addition, some voters were upset their vote was
not secret because election officials could see their backup ballots.
is impossible to know how many votes were affected by the issues cited
in these incident reports. However, depending on the state and
location, individual paperless voting machines could be used by 200 to
600 voters, and paper-ballot scanners could be used to count even
larger numbers of ballots. While the presidential results would not
appear to be undermined by any of these problems, they do reveal that
machinery-related problems are more extensive than many people assume.
Machinery Still Unfamiliar
report noted other categories of voting machine issues. Since 2002,
federal law has encouraged the use of paperless voting systems,
especially for people with disabilities. However, Hall said "disability
access equipment simply didn't work or was not set up properly" in
Arizona, California, New York, Missouri, Minnesota and Maryland. He
also noted a report of a poll worker not helping a blind voter because
too many other voters were in line.
Machinery malfunctions were a
common complaint, Hall said, saying New Jersey and Pennsylvania
experienced "numerous reports of lights and buttons not working on
machines." In addition, he said there were reports of machines that
kept rebooting, "would work only after periodic shaking," or did not
work with other computers in the network.
In 14 states, voters
reported "vote flipping," where the machines selected another candidate
other than their pick (FL, OH, PA, VA, GA, MD, MS, TX, NV, MO, NC, SC,
Voters raised the issue of who was authorized to fix
broken machines. In South Carolina, "individuals removed a voting
machine from the polling place and took it out to a car to tinker with
it," Hall said. In New York, others, including a policeman, apparently
"fixed" voting machines. Voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania also noted
clocks on some machines were still set to Daylight Savings time, which
prompted them to question whether their votes would count.
process of paperless voting also confused some voters. "A 'fleeing
voter' is a voter who leaves a voting machine without having cast their
voted ballot," he said, citing incident reports from New Jersey, New
York and Pennsylvania where that was an issue. "A 'premature voter' is
one who accidentally casts their ballot (or has it cast for them)
before they are finished voting their ballot," Hall said, citing
reports from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Chicago.
voting or selecting candidates from one political party also had
glitches, he said. In some instances, not all the candidates were
selected, as in Washington, D.C. In Virginia and Pennsylvania, there
were reports of ballots where the presidential race "was the only
contest available," or the opposite, where the presidential race "was
the only race missing."
Computer scanners that read paper ballots
had other problems. Reports from Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, Texas and
North Carolina found counters on scanners did not record when new
ballots were inserted, an issue that raised concerns about vote count
accuracy. In Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and California, printers attached
to paperless voting machines to create a paper record of electronic
votes failed. In Virginia, scanners could not read wet or humid paper
ballots. In Florida and California, using the wrong kind of pen caused
votes to be misread, the incident reports said.
Poll workers also
were confused with how to handle back-up paper ballots, Hall said. In
California, New York and Pennsylvania, it was not clear where to put
these ballots after people voted, he said. Some security seals on boxes
were broken, he said, and in some cases ballots were "just laying
around" or "stacked on top of machines," as was the case in Minnesota.
a few cases, poll workers intentionally or mistakenly cast a voter's
ballot before they are finished voting or before they've had a chance
to revise their ballot," Hall said, citing examples from New York,
Virginia, Illinois and Arizona.
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