Indiana legislator proposes ban on touch-screen machines

The legislator himself says he doesn't expect the bill to go anywhere; he just wants to draw some attention to the problems. Story here. I'm going to give a prize to the first clerk who, when presented with concerns about the integrity of voting machines, responds by addressing those concerns rather than reflexively whining about cost or workload. 

Not that cost and workload are not legitimate considerations, but it doesn't help their case when they continuously seem to be trying to change the subject from the accuracy and reliability of their machines. I'm reminded of a cartoonish used-car salesman who, when a customer complains the steering wheel is loose and the brake pedal floppy, says "But you can't beat the price!"

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  • Karen McKim
    commented 2013-02-05 14:27:49 -0600
    Absolutely agree, Karen. Pre-election machine tests are necessary to ensure that the machines have been set up correctly to read the ballots for that election, but even when conducted perfectly on machines that have not been ‘patched’ are incapable of detecting hacks, errors, or simple malfunctions that can affect the machines’ operation on Election Day.

    Post-election auditing is the ONLY way to validate election results, and Wisconsin has a LONG way to go until we have adequate post-election auditing of our elections. (Important lessons are being learned in the citizens’ efforts to recount the votes in California’s GMO-labeling referendum. They are proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the value of paper ballots is limited unless there are clear and well-accepted procedures in place for demanding and getting that recount or audit.)
  • Karen Edson
    commented 2013-02-05 12:32:34 -0600
    I do not believe that the idea of going solely to a hand count has been on the table for any but the smallest political subdivisions. The optical scanners’ Achilles heel is alleged to be that the programming can be ‘remotely controlled’ by the manufacturers of the machines. The touch screen machines have been alleged to change a voter’s vote while the voter watched!

    There have been some process issues with the optical scanners since they first came into use. For example, when the machines are initially set up for a new election, the clerks run a test number of ballots through the machines, then hand count the test ballots and compare to the machine totals. The test ballots and the test printouts from the machine are retained with the rest of the materials for that election. HOWEVER, in certain election cycles, manufacturers’ reps arrived in the clerks’ offices with “patches” to the machines’ programs BETWEEN the original test and the election. No re-test was done following the application of the “patch”. This occurred in Ohio in 2004 and was mentioned as happening in Wisconsin in 2011 recall.

    In some political subdivisions, custody and control of election materials has been less than adequate. This could lead to unscrupulous parties “packing” the ballot box. This sort of fraud is totally INDEPENDENT of the mechanism used to count the votes.
  • Karen McKim
    commented 2013-02-05 12:05:55 -0600
    An aside: I’m compiling a list right now of all the drawbacks of touch-screen voting machines, but I’m not opposed to elections systems that machine-count voter-marked paper ballots on Election Day.

    I think going to a system of nothing but hand-counted paper ballots is both unlikely and even unwise.

    Accessibility for voters with disabilities is an issue with only MARKING ballots; it need not affect how anyone’s votes are COUNTED. Technologies exist that allow voters with disabilities to mark regular paper ballots in private. Voting booths can be like public restrooms: have equipment available for people both with and without disabilities. People with disabilities have their needs met and people without disabilities can use whichever type of equipment they prefer, but we’re not all forced to use the accessible equipment.

    The benefits of optically scanned paper ballots, in comparison to hand-counting include:
    + Prompt review and private feedback to the voter if he or she makes a mistake on the ballot. For example, if a voter accidentally makes marks indicating votes for two candidates in an contest in which he was supposed to vote for only one, that voter will lose his vote in a municipality where votes are only hand-counted. In the jurisdiction that uses optical scanners, the ballot will be immediately spit back out at the voter, and he will have an opportunity to correct the error.
    + New technologies build digital imaging into the optical scanners, so that they do not merely count the votes on the ballots, but they create a digital image of each ballot as it is cast. Having both the paper ballots and a separate file of their digital images opens whole new realms of election security and transparency, superior to what is achievable if the ballots are not digitally imaged.
    + Americans want, and have been accustomed to prompt election results, but even now, election-night results are only preliminary. (In Wisconsin, the results of the Nov. 6 elections were not made official until the week of Thanksgiving.) Just because we use optical scanners to calculate the unofficial results doesn’t mean we cannot also audit the results by comparing actual ballots against the machine tape before election results are made official.
  • Karen McKim
    commented 2013-02-05 11:18:08 -0600
    At the grassroots festival in Mazomanie on Saturday, Feb 16, we’ll be talking about this in the Election Integrity workshop (1:15). I think the best strategy is not so much a letter-writing campaign, but a campaign of having at least one grassroots activist in every county being in touch with local elections officials a couple times a year about election-administration developments. I’m hoping to use the workshop to help this vision grow and start to become a reality.

    Our current state statutes provide several valuable opportunities for citizen participation in elections; almost all county and municipal clerks are astonishingly approachable; the vast majority of them are sincerely (if naively) committed to honest, fair elections; and statutes provide them with substantial authority to make the decisions for their own jurisdictions. (GAB merely advises them on many important decisions, but cannot dictate certain things to them.) That makes elections administration an area in which the easiest, most pleasant activism can have the most pay-off.

    As I write this, for example, Dane County has already decided to replace its current—genuinely antiquated—optical scanners. This will be a big investment, and once the County has bought the new machines, we’ll be stuck with them for at least a decade. Touch-screen machines will be considered, but the process of choosing the replacement machines has only just begun. Scott McDonell, our new county clerk, has already demonstrated a sincere commitment to seeking and receiving citizen input, and I hope to have an update on this at the festival.

    We’ll also hear from Bill Waser, who practically single-handedly stopped Sauk County from adopting a policy that would have charged citizens prohibitive amounts of money to view the public records (i.e., paper ballots) after an election—a process vitally important to credible elections and to deterring electronic theft.
  • Karen Edson
    commented 2013-02-03 11:04:26 -0600
    Can we start a letter writing campaign to county clerks and local newspapers from grassroots group members in their counties? The touch screen machines were supposed to be used ONLY by those physically handicapped who were unable to use the paper ballots.
    We also need to have people work as poll watchers and as count watchers.