Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour (Displayed 10/23/04)

Early voting in the U.S. October, 2004.
Voters and poll workers blamed for voting machine flaws.

Bottle-cap manufacturers are busy ensuring that children really can't open the child-proof caps. Software manufacturers are busy adding "Save before exiting?" warning messages to their programs. Meanwhile, voting machine manufacturers and their loyal customers are busy defending their products' malfunctions and design flaws by blaming the people they claim to serve.

First-time users of these poorly-designed voting systems are expected to take up the slack. Here's how it's working out.

Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Sequoia. Paperless electronic voting machines are resistant to voters' attempts to vote for their choices.[1]

Kim Griffith voted on Thursday— over and over and over. ... She went to Valle Del Norte Community Center in Albuquerque, planning to vote for John Kerry. "I pushed his name, but a green check mark appeared before President Bush's name," she said.

Griffith erased the vote by touching the check mark at Bush's name. That's how a voter can alter a touch-screen ballot. She again tried to vote for Kerry, but the screen again said she had voted for Bush. The third time, the screen agreed that her vote should go to Kerry.

She faced the same problem repeatedly as she filled out the rest of the ballot. On one item, "I had to vote five or six times," she said.

Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said she doesn't believe the touch-screen system has been making mistakes. It's the fault of voters, she said Thursday. ... "I have confidence in the machines," she said. "They are touch screens. People are touching them with their palms, or leaning their hand. ... They're hitting the wrong button."

Sandoval County, New Mexico. Sequoia. More vote-switching by the machines.[1]

In Sandoval County, three Rio Rancho residents said they had a similar problem, with opposite results. They said a touch-screen machine switched their presidential votes from Bush to Kerry.

Bureau of Elections Manager Eddie Gutierrez also said he doesn't believe there are problems with the machines.

Bexar County, Texas. October, 2004. ES&S. Voters who rest a hand on the touch screen while voting may inadvertently cast their votes wrong without knowing it.[2]

"The machine registered the vote from my thumb when I rested my hand on the screen to vote," the [San Antonio Business Journal] reader claims.

The reader says he caught his error on the review screen before finalizing his vote, but he questions whether everyone -- especially new voters -- would do the same.

[Bexar County Elections Administrator Clifford] Borofsky says his office has received only two reports in 60,000 votes cast of votes being registered by individuals inadvertently resting their hand on the voting screen. However, there is no way to know how many people made the mistake without knowing it.

"That's what the review screen is for," Borofsky says, adding that it is the fail-safe built into the system to guard against inadvertent votes.

Travis County, Texas. October, 2004. Hart Intercivic. Votes for Kerry switched to Bush when voters press "Enter."[3]

Gail Fisher, manager of the county's Elections Division, theorizes that after selecting their straight party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing "enter," perhaps thinking they are pressing "cast ballot" or "next page."

Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing "enter" at that moment causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney.

Fisher stressed very strongly that voters should not rush, but carefully and thoroughly examine their ballots on the final review page before pressing "cast ballot."

The manufacturers' response to their machines' flaws?

Voters worried that an electronic voting machine might accidentally eat their vote on Nov. 2 would be better off pointing the finger of blame at clueless poll workers than at shiny new touchscreen machines, according to information released by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).[4]

[1] Some Voters Say Machines Failed, Incorrect Choices Appear on Screens. Albuquerque Journal. October 22, 2004. By Jim Ludwick, Journal Staff Writer.

[2] You touch it, you voted for it. San Antonio Business Journal. October 21, 2004.

[3] BREAKING STORY: County Responds to Voting Machine Problems. Austin Chronicle. October 22, 2004. By Jim Nichols.

[4] Problems with e-voting? Blame the humans. IDG News Service October 19,2004. Paul Roberts, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau

It's the fault of voters.
~ Mary Herrera
Bernalillo County Clerk