A decade after Dana Debeauvoir helped change Travis County, Texas to an all-electronic voting system she still expects to be falsely accused of fixing the coming election, just as she had in the last two presidential races. The clerk, who has administered voting for 25 years in the county that includes Austin, says the public has remained mistrustful of the ballot system, where voters pick candidates directly from a computer screen, without marking a piece of paper. “There have been so many hard feelings,” says Debeauvoir. “You get people saying ‘I know you have been flipping votes.’” In the wake of the hanging chad controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential elections, the federal government encouraged election administrators across the country to switch to electronic systems and mandated upgrades to many election procedures. As they prepare for the presidential elections, those officials now find themselves at the center of a continuing debate over whether paperless direct-record electronic (DRE) balloting can be trusted – what Debeauvoir calls the “DRE wars.”
The voting machine that cast between 50,000 and 60,000 extra votes for New York gubernatorial candidates in November has a bug that causes it to misread some ballots and add additional votes to others when the machine itself overheats, according to a review by the state Board of Election. All of the so-called “over-votes” were thrown out after election workers reported an unrealistic spike in the number of votes from the machine, from manufacturer Election Systems and Software (ES&S), which apparently overheated during the hour or so the polling location was closed for lunch. In 2010 NYC’s City Board of Elections decided to replace its old lever-driven voting machines, that required voters to flip a lever to register their choices with a newer model from ES&S. Rather than flipping a lever, voters fill in oval spaces on paper ballots, then scan the ballots into the voting machine to register their choices. The machine counts votes automatically; the stored paper ballots remain serve as the source for recounts or backups for lost votes.
The Board of Elections will be commanded Thursday to defend the indefensible — plus the incomprehensible, the inexplicable and the incompetent. Good luck with that. The forum will be a hearing of the state Assembly Election Committee, where lawmakers will grill board representatives about their loony, hours-long process for tallying unofficial results.
No other election authority in the nation adds up numbers using the method employed by the board. In brief, when voting is done, poll workers:
Order each of 3,859 computerized scanners at 1,358 poll sites to print out a paper strip that shows the votes cast for every candidate, broken down by election district. Cut up each machine’s strip by election district. Gather the scraps of paper into piles for each race and each one of 6,109 election districts. Add the numbers up by hand and write the totals on sheets of paper that are taken to police stations to be entered into computers for dissemination by The Associated Press.