Voting Machine Mess-up Du Jour(Displayed 08/21/04 and 08/22/04)

Santa Clara County, California. March, 2004. Sequoia.
Blind voters criticize paperless electronic voting machines.

Blind voters find the "accessibility features" of the AVC Edge machines unacceptable and complain that Sequoia didn't listen to their suggestions.

Disabled-rights groups have been some of the strongest supporters of electronic voting, but blind voters in Santa Clara County said the machines performed poorly and were anything but user-friendly in the March election.

"Very few of our members were able to vote privately, independently, despite Santa Clara County's supposed 'accessible' touch screens," Dawn Wilcox, president of the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind, wrote in a letter to the registrar of voters after the March primary. "I feel this is an unacceptable state of affairs."

... Wilcox said in an interview that she surveyed more than 50 members of her group after hearing anecdotal accounts of Election Day snafus. Only two members said the machines had functioned smoothly. About a dozen provided detailed descriptions of the problems they experienced using the audio technology that was supposed to guide them through the ballot and help them cast a vote in secret.

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.

... Noel Runyan, a blind voter and computer scientist who is an expert in designing accessible systems, said touch screens are a good idea in theory, but they need a thorough redesign to work in practice. He said the voting companies appeared to have ignored feedback they solicited from groups of blind voters as they were developing their systems.

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.

"I personally want them to be decertified for this election," Runyan said. "We need to make a strong statement that all these machines need to be redesigned on the user interface side. We've got a mistake here.''

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

See: Sequoia in the News

No one votes unassisted on a computer;
everyone is "assisted" by anonymous programmers.
~ Mark Ortiz
former candidate for U.S. Representative
North Carolina, 8th District