E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Tuesday December 14, 2004

561 Votes found in Washington

Filed under: — Joseph Lorenzo Hall @ 2:34 pm PST

Washington is in its third vote-count. There was the initial count, then a recount and now a third hand count. King county has been particularly fluctuant in its reported numbers in each of these counts. Now – where the margin of victory in the Governor’s race is 42 votes according to the second recount and 88 votes counting votes found in the current recount – King County has found 561 ballots that were improperly disqualified because signatures of a few hundred registered voters had not made it into their registration database (these signatures existed on the hard-copy registration cards) (from the Seattle Times, “Error discovery could give Gregoire election”):

The King County error came to light Sunday when Larry Phillips, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, was looking over a list of voters from his neighborhood whose ballots had been disqualified.

Phillips spotted his own name on the list, prompting an investigation by King County elections workers that turned up 561 improperly disqualified ballots.

King County Elections Director Dean Logan said that when workers were verifying signatures on absentee ballots, they erroneously disqualified voters whose signatures hadn’t been entered into a computer system.

Instead, Logan said, they should have double-checked with signatures on voters’ registration cards on file with the county.

This is yet another reminder that the voting system is exactly that, a system. There are many points of failure outside of the polling place and even the central tabulation activities. Any part of this system can potentially affect the outcome of the race, by accident or on purpose.

Monday December 06, 2004

Hand Recount of Computer Results

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:12 am PST

Two Washington counties are going to recount e-voting results by printing them out from a computer and then counting the printouts by hand, according to an AP story.
The e-voting technology stores each vote in an electronic cartridge. These cartridges will be used to create a PDF file for each ballot, which will be printed, thus allowing a hand recount of paper ballots.

This makes no sense, obviously. If the electronic cartridges are the only available records of how people voted, then the print-then-recount-by-hand procedure can only introduce further errors. (Of course, recounting voter-verified paper ballots, had their been any, would have given us useful information about how votes were cast.)

So why is this charade going on? Presumably because Washington state law requires a recount of paper voting records when recounting a very close election, such as this year’s gubernatorial election. Perhaps the current law was adopted back before anybody foresaw the possibility of computerized voting.

This kind of problem isn’t unique to Washington state. I understand that New Jersey election laws require election machines to be examined by mechanical engineers. That made sense back when all such machines were mechanical, but it’s the wrong approach for computerized machines. Technology has moved much faster than voting law.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): One of the two affected counties (Snohomish) has asked for permission to transfer the machine votes onto computer tape, and then use a computer to recount the records on the tape, according to a Seattle Times Comments (0)

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