Voting Problems in Gotham

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The fact that there were problems with a new e-voting procedure in yesterday's New York primaries may induce a feeling of deja vu among regular readers here. After all, only a month ago, various leftist "advocates" were carping about how "confusing" it was to use the new voting machines -- which were called for by a law whose stated purpose is to make voting easier, the Help America Vote Act. This law, incidentally, also sets standards for such machines.

Strangely enough, the difficulties didn't lie with massive voter confusion, but with equipment glitches and with poll workers being unfamiliar with the new machines.

The New York Times reported that several polling sites in Brooklyn postponed their openings for up to 90 minutes, and at several locations, the foreign-language ballots had not been delivered. (A Russian neighborhood in Brooklyn was especially out of luck). Voters in Manhattan also reported seeing "system error" messages after submitting their ballots, which pollsters reassured them had been showing up all morning. In Westchester County, three of the new optical scan machines just weren't working at all. At some polling places, voters complained that the principle of secret ballots was completely disregarded. [emphasis in original]
Some voters did, as Glynda Carr predicted, "walk away from the polls without voting," but not for the reason she voiced concern about. That is bad enough, but following links takes us to an interesting story out of Arkansas about these same machines throwing an election a couple of years ago, after "flipping" the totals of an Ohio race a couple of years before that.
Bruce Haggard, an election commissioner in Faulkner County, Arkansas, is baffled by a problem that occurred with two voting machines in this month's state primary elections. The machines allocated votes cast in one race to an entirely different race that wasn't even on the electronic ballot. The problem resulted in the wrong candidate being declared victor in a state House nomination race.
The good news is that the paper record produced by these machines could be compared with an electronic record stored in a memory card within the machine to check the results. The bad news is that now, one wonders at what point the goal of ironclad verifiability will be used to justify a "feature" once noted of Venezuelan Smartmatic machines.
[T]he opposition demonstrated that Smartmatic voting machines to be used in the election could be used to keep track of individual votes.
For an individual machine, if each paper ballot had a unique identifier, which was then recorded with each time-stamped electronic vote taken from it, a few corrupt poll workers could easily do this. Such a prospect makes hanging chads and drawn-out recounts -- or even a race thrown the old-fashioned way -- look appealing by contrast.

Our best protection against such things is our own vigilance.

-- CAV


kelleyn said...

This is the real reason why I'm a permanent absentee voter.

Gus Van Horn said...

From what I hear about this administration, they'll do their best not to count you.

mtnrunner2 said...

Since such machines run on software, they will have bugs just like any other software program.

And although voters may be stored under their unique SS#, what are candidates stored under, a simple ID number? Is it unique nationwide? If not, what if another county has a candidate with the same identifier, and the records become commingled, as they might when different counties' records are stored at the state level. Local candidate #5 in Boston may be interpreted as local candidate #5 in Amherst… you get the picture. That factor may account for the incorrectly-cast votes mentioned above.

It's definitely not foolproof. It requires coordination and lots of testing. As a software developer I actually find the prospect of electronic voting rather scary, because humans write this stuff, and it can go wrong. At the same time, it's an interesting challenge :)

Gus Van Horn said...

I don't know the details of how the information is stored, and I agree that, these systems being run on software, there WILL be bugs. What bothers me is that most people have a poor understanding of the latter fact and could pressure politicians (or some be demagogued into doing so) to push for "accountability" measures that will be tantamount to making ballots non-secret.