Over Thanksgiving, Adam and I visited an old friend and his new girlfriend. The conversation, predictably, turned to politics. Adam or I somehow or another, predictably, brought up Greg Palast and his investigations into systematic voter disenfranchisement by the republican party in 2000 & 2004 in FL, NM, and OH. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it on GregPalast.com and/or buy his book, Armed Madhouse.
Girlfriend commented that we are less sophisticated with voting that Honduras (or some Central American country) because they use touch-screen voting machines.
I was instantly transported back to my Computer Science professor’s office after the 2004 elections and our, admittedly random, conversation on the horrors of touchscreen voting.
That’s right: Two people with advanced degrees in Computer Science think touch screen voting machines are a bad idea. Bad bad BAD.
I think this surprises many people who equate technological advancement with ‘better.’ But let me ask you this: Has your computer ever crashed and lost ALL of your life’s files? Has your computer ever crashed when you had a serious deadline in, like, 10 minutes? Have you ever read through a manual for a new gadget or software? Have you ever understood said manual? Have you ever had to wait days or weeks for someone to come fix your internet connection? Have you ever had to leave your computer for days or weeks to have it repaired?
Of course you have. Why? Because computers don’t work.
Nah, I jest … sort of. The truth of the matter is that computers are insanely complex. There are whole areas of theoretical computer science devoted to proving that software and computers do what they say that they can do. Most commercial software and hardware are never put to these tests – they tend to live in the minds and papers of disheveled professors and disgruntled students. The point is that a computer cannot be guaranteed to work when you need it, where you need it, and how you expect it to. And this isn’t even taking security into account.
And touch screen voting machines are simply computers with fancy screens. Now it is true that there are computers systems out there (banking anyone?) that guarantee that their computers work exactly correctly and are rarely down. It takes a lot of money, planning, and techy people to make this happen.
Does every county in the state have a super tech on hand to immediately fix issues with touch screens? Do they have the money to pay for a redundant system and high security measures? Have they put in the time and effort to train the election volunteers on how to use, fix, and troubleshoot the machines?
In a disturbing turn of events, the Department of Justice has settled their lawsuit with the New York State Board of Elections by forcing NY State to comply with disabled-access provision in the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002. Now I am all for ensuring the voters can vote, no matter the circumstance. Who isn’t? (Besides Bush, Cheney, and the Republican party) The problem with this settlement is that is defines both Paper Ballot Optical Scan Systems (PBOS) AND touch screen electronic voting systems (DRE) as acceptable disabled-access ballot marking devices.
The good news is that your precinct has a choice. The bad news is that many people, like Girlfriend, think that touch screen voting machines – machines that have been proven to be unreliable and easily tampered with – are better. Remember kids – shiny and pretty aren’t better! Never forget the Ford Pinto.
Alright, now for some facts. I am totally stealing these talking points from the NY Chapter of Progressive Democrats for America:
TOUCH-SCREEN VOTING MACHINES HAVE A TRACK RECORD OF FAILURE
One Example: AccuVote-TSX machines (Diebold) in Cuyahoga County, Ohio
- The poll workers were baffled on how to work the machines and the manuals from Diebold were useless.
- 143 machines broke down. Dozens of other machines had printer jams or mysteriously powered down.
- More than 200 voter-card encoders (which create the cards that let voters vote) went missing
- One audit of the election discovered that in 72.5 percent of the audited machines, the paper trail did not match the digital tally on the memory cards.
ELECTION OFFICIALS AND LEGISLATORS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
- Spring 2006: Florida decides to get rid of their electronic voting machines.
- July 2007: California decertifies every electronic voting machine in the state after a Top-To-Bottom Review.
- December 2007: Colorado decertifies about half of its touch-screen devices.
- December 2007: Ohio secretary of State Jennifer Brunner releases a report that states touch-screens â€œmay jeopardize the integrity of the voting process.â€ Brunner is now ordering Cuyahoga County, Ohio to scrap its touch-screen machines and go back to paper-based voting before the Ohio primary, scheduled for March 4th 2008.
- December 2007 Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sponsor a bill (S.2295) that would ban the use of touch screen machines across the country by 2012.
- The voter marks her votes on a paper ballot, filling in bubbles to indicate which candidates she prefers. Voters with disabilities or non-English languages directly mark and verify their ballot by using an accessible ballotmarking-device (BMD).
- The vote is immediately tangible to the voters; they see it with their own eyes, because they personally record it.
- The tallying is done rapidly, because the ballots are fed into a computerized scanner. There are no delays for voters because one scanner can countthousands of ballots a day (3500). With DREs you may have to stand in line because it takes twice as long to vote on a DRE as on a lever machine or paper ballot. You need at least two DREs to replace each lever machine. If a DRE breaks down, you are stuck, but if the scanner breaks down, you can keep on voting on paper ballots.
- If thereâ€™s a recount, the elections officials can simply take out the paper ballots and count the votes by hand.
- The voter-marked paper ballots prevent endless fighting over tight election results.
- Optical scanning is used in what many elections experts regard as the â€œperfect electionsâ€ of Leon County, FL where the error rate â€” how often his system miscounts a ballot â€” is three-quarters of a percent at its highest, and has dipped as low as three-thousandths of a percent.
- PBOS systems are MORE COST EFFICIENT to acquire, maintain, and use PBOS machines cost about one third what DREs cost. One DRE serves 200-300 voters, while one optical scanner and one accessible ballotmarking-device serves 2000-3000 voters, so far less equipment is needed. The cost efficiency of PBOS over DREâ€™s has been acknowledged by New York County Elections Commissioner Douglas Kellner.