Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour (Displayed 07/31/04)

United States, 2002-2004. ES&S and Sequoia.
E-voting usability facts contradict proponents' assertions.

Vendors and other paperless voting system proponents keep saying touch screen voting is a more usable voting process for minorities, the elderly, and the disabled. They say it, but they don't offer any proof. Just last week John Fund, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece,[1] said it again -- and still without any evidence.

In fact, there is much evidence that contradicts those assertions.

Minorities. According to a study[2] released by the Florida ACLU in 2002, African-American voters were disproportionately disenfranchised by Miami-Dade County's chaotic September 10th election on ES&S iVotronic touch-screen voting machines.

An examination of 31 problem precincts revealed at least 1,544 lost votes, approximately half of which were from African-Americans. While an average of 8.2% of the votes were lost across the whole county, the "lost vote" rate in the 31 precincts ran as high as 21.5%.

Dr. Hugh Gladwin, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Florida International University, conducted a statistical analysis of the report for the ACLU. Dr. Gladwin compared the rate of problems at majority (+50%) black versus majority non-black precincts and determined that there was a large disparity.

"There was a 15% problem rate in non-black precincts versus a 28% problem rate in majority black precincts. The probability this could have occurred by chance is infinitesimal .00055," Dr. Gladwin noted.

The elderly. In Broward County, which also uses the iVotronic, the March 2004 primary results showed 169 blank votes in the Democratic presidential race. A study[3] by the Sun-Sentinel suggests that a disproportionate number of blank votes were cast by the elderly.

Almost half of those "undervotes" - 80 ballots - were cast in precincts where the average voter is 65 years or older, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel review of voting records.

While the county-wide average undervote was about 1 percent, the undervote rate in these precincts ranged from 2.9 to 5.7 percent. ... Of the top five undervoting precincts in the sample, there was only one in which the average voter was younger than 65.

Consider also that another study of the same election[4] by the Sun-Sentinel showed there were 8 times as many undervotes on electronic equipment (1.09%) as there were on optical scan paper ballots (0.12%). A little simple math suggests that the elderly leave blank votes on e-voting machines about 30 times more often than they do on paper ballots.

The blind. Recently, the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind completed a study[5] of the accessibility features of Sequoia AVC Edge. The study found that, contrary to the claims of e-voting vendors and proponents:

... blind voters in Santa Clara County said the machines performed poorly and were anything but user-friendly in the March election.

Four voters said the audio function did not appear to work at all. Others waited up to half an hour for poll workers to trouble-shoot the devices. Sam Chen, a retired college professor, said he was happy to finally hear an initial message, but then the machine balked. After struggling for an hour, Chen asked a poll worker to cast a ballot on his behalf. "I wish I had voted on my own,'' he said.

Among the criticism provided by voters was poor sound quality delayed response time and braille that was positioned so awkwardly it could only be read upside down. Chen, the college professor, also said the audio message required blind voters to press a yellow button. "Yellow means nothing to me,'' Chen said.

Elaine Larson, assistant registrar of voters in Santa Clara County, said she did not believe the machines malfunctioned.

[1] No Doctored DRE; Democrats use computer hysteria to get out the vote. Wall Street Journal. July 27, 2004. By John Fund.

[2] Analysis of September 10th Voting Fiasco in Miami Dade Demonstrates Disproportionate Impact on Racial Minorities, ACLU Says. October 21, 2002.

[3] Florida senior voters have trouble with electronic voting machines. Sun Herald. March 12, 2004. By Jeremy Milarsky.

[4] Analysis reveals flaws in voting by touch-screen. Sun-Sentinel. July 11 2004. By Jeremy Milarsky and Buddy Nevins, Staff Writers.

[5] Blind voters rip e-machines. They say defects thwart goal of enfranchising sight-impaired. Mercury News. May. 15, 2004. By Elise Ackerman.

The greater the ignorance,
the greater the dogmatism.
~ William Osler