E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Monday November 01, 2004

Touchscreen Problems in New Mexico

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:08 am PST

Early voters in New Mexico report that when they choose one candidate, the voting machine sometimes displays a vote for a different candidate. This is reminiscent of the Texas problems Dan Wallach wrote about below.

Here’s a quote from Jim Ludwick’s story in the Albuquerque Journal:

[Kim Griffith] went to Valle Del Norte Community Center in Albuquerque, planning to vote for John Kerry. “I pushed his name, but a green check mark appeared before President Bush’s name,” she said.

Griffith erased the vote by touching the check mark at Bush’s name. That’s how a voter can alter a touch-screen ballot.

She again tried to vote for Kerry, but the screen again said she had voted for Bush. The third time, the screen agreed that her vote should go to Kerry.

She faced the same problem repeatedly as she filled out the rest of the ballot. On one item, “I had to vote five or six times,” she said.

Michael Cadigan, president of the Albuquerque City Council, had a similar experience when he voted at City Hall.

“I cast my vote for president. I voted for Kerry and a check mark for Bush appeared,” he said.

He reported the problem immediately and was shown how to alter the ballot.

Cadigan said he doesn’t think he made a mistake the first time. “I was extremely careful to accurately touch the button for my choice for president,” but the check mark appeared by the wrong name, he said.

In Sandoval County, three Rio Rancho residents said they had a similar problem, with opposite results. They said a touch-screen machine switched their presidential votes from Bush to Kerry.

This sounds like a problem with the touch sensors on the machine’s screens. Touchscreens use one mechanism to paint images onto the screen, and a separate mechanism to measure where the screen has been touched. Many touch sensors react oddly when the screen is touched in more than one place at the same time: they report a single touch between the actual touch points. If a voter rests his hand on the frame around the edge of the machine’s screen, the edge of that hand may accidentally trigger the touch sensor. If the voter then uses his other hand to choose a candidate, the touch sensor may interpret these two simultaneous touches (one at the edge of the screen, and one on the desired candidate) as a touch somewhere in between. And that may be read as a vote for the wrong candidate.

Though the detailed explanation looks different from the Texas problems Dan discussed, the big picture is the same – computerized touchscreen systems don’t behave as reasonable voters expect them to, so some votes are read for the wrong candidate. It’s like an electronic version of the infamous Palm Beach County butterfly ballot from four years ago.

Voters: remember to watch your voting machine carefully to make sure it isn’t accidentally misreading your input.

2 Comments »

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  1. and how do you know, in the presence of that error, that what you finally do get properly selected gets accurately recorded if you don’t get a receipt?

    Comment by Grady — Monday November 01, 2004 @ 12:43 pm PST

  2. E-Voting Failures
    Read it here….

    Trackback by SIVACRACY.NET: Siva Vaidhyanathan\’s Weblog — Monday November 01, 2004 @ 2:37 pm PST

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