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Stateside: Chad No More

Stateside with Rosalea

Chad No More

Being sick last Tuesday, the day of the primary election here in California, had its advantages. I was able to watch more morning news television than usual, leading me to the conclusion that I should find me a job where I don’t have to leave the house until after 9 a.m. The local morning news bulletins are really very informative, but I wonder who on earth is watching them when it takes so long to get to work in the Bay area.

Of course, some of what is on in the morning is a replay from the evening news, and I assume that was the case with the item in which Bev Harris talked about the insecurity of electronic voting machines. The high public profile of possible problems with the machines meant that the Secretary of State ordered independent random checks of them, and the news item also mentioned that the companies making electronic voting machines are conducting background checks on their programmers.

By the time of the 6 o’clock news, the local ABC affiliate was reporting that California’s “first completely chadless election” had been “marred by hiccoughs and glitches at electronic voting machines around the state.” Fourteen of California’s 58 counties were using touch screen voting. Problems were reported to do with a small piece of equipment the poll workers use to blank a previous voter’s information on the Voter Access Card and re-activate it with the next voter’s information.

When the voter inserts the VAC, the information on the card ensures the touch screen displays ballot information appropriate for their place of residence and party registration, if any. Different counties use equipment from different companies, but I’ll put a link at the bottom of the page to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters site, where you can see how the Voter Access Card is used. Alameda County uses Diebold machines. Critics of electronic voting point to the encoding of these cards as being a very weak point because the encoder isn’t as yet included in the equipment that needs to be certified by the Secretary of State.

A friend who voted here in Alameda County encountered a different problem. She got to page four of the touch screen voting pages and the machine locked up. When she called the poll worker he said there were still some pages to be voted on, so he cancelled what she’d done and she had to start all over again. Considering that a popular ironical slogan that is used to refer to ballot box corruption – dating from the first Mayor Daley’s term in Chicago – is “Vote early, vote often”, there is something very icky about having to vote twice because of a machine malfunction.

In fact, Alameda County had a number of problems with its machines. The local giveaway paper has quite a lengthy story detailing them, which I’ll also put the link to. For example, training given to poll workers proved inadequate when some of the machines booted up with a totally unfamiliar screen, perhaps, the Berkeley Daily Planet reports, because batteries or memory cards were shaken loose during transportation.

The integrity of the vote tally from the machines is certainly under intense scrutiny, which can only be a good thing if it results in voters being satisfied that their choices are recorded and counted accurately.

Voting machine explanation and video:
http://www.co.alameda.ca.us/rov/voter.htm

Local news story:
http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/article.cfm?issue=03-05-04&storyID=18399

ENDS

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