October 29, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

E-voting - What the Horror Stories Teach

EFF will be reporting on Election Day about any problems that may arise with electronic voting machines, but some of the machines have been used in earlier elections and during early voting this week, so we're already starting to see patterns emerge. The National Committee for Voting Integrity (NCVV) has published a list of articles on e-voting -- both old and new -- that provides a good overview of what the major glitches are. Below, we take look at a handful of these articles from past and present elections and provide a heads-up on three key issues voters and poll watchers should be aware of:


Problem - "Touchy" Touch Screen Machines:
County Responds to Voting Machine Problems
[Austin Chronicle]; County Tries to Prevent More Ballot Problems [Dallas Morning News]

As we noted on Sunday, some voters are reporting that upon completing the ballot process, their votes have been changed from Bush/Cheney to Kerry/Edwards or vice versa. Voting officials are evidently blaming voters, claiming that they must have accidentally touched the wrong part of the screen or brushed up against it with their sleeves. But we've witnessed demos of touch screen machines, and the machines themselves may have more to do with the problem than voting officials are willing to admit.

What to Do: Regardless of the cause, the remedy is clear: proof your ballot. The major touch screen machines being used in this election show the voter a "summary," "proof," or "review" screen before the vote is cast. If you see anything funny there, stop. DO NOT CAST YOUR VOTE. The machine will allow you to correct your vote at this stage; use this option. If it's not evident to you, ask a poll worker to give you directions.

It might also help for you to be prepared for what you will experience at the polls. Before heading out to vote, print out the Voters Guide for the e-voting machine you'll be using, and take the guide with you to ensure that your vote is properly cast. To do this, visit the Verifier, an online map where you can "drill down" to your particular county and find out what kind of voting machine you'll be using. It's quick, it's easy, and it may help you avoid the problems other voters are having.

Problem - Voting Is Delayed Due to Technical Problems: Computer Glitch Stalls Hillsborough Results [Tampa Tribune]; Here We Go Again: Confusion Reigns in Sequel to 2000 Election [Miami Herald]

In September, Hillsborough's results stalled for hours while election officials struggled with a computerized counting system malfunction. The problem was blamed on some changes that had been made to the computer system, but Election Supervisor Buddy Johnson said, "Our server slowed down. We're not really sure why. I have no lack of confidence. It's not broken."

What to Do: Regardless of the cause, delays like this aren't only inconveniences -- they risk disenfranchising the people who can't vote before the polls close. If voters are being turned away, election officials should keep the polls open a commensurate amount of time. That is, if a technical issue keeps voters away for an hour, then the polls should remain open an hour later. This is precisely what Governor Jeb Bush did in 2002, issuing an order that kept the polls open two hours later than originally scheduled.

Problem - Machines Fail, Polls Run Out of Paper: Voters Turned Away by Glitches [Contra Costa Times]

In California, glitches with encoders turned voters away from polling places because of malfunctions. The problems affected 25 polling locations in Alameda County, turning away between 50 and 100 voters. Paper ballots were used as a backup, but there were not enough to accommodate all of the voters who came to vote.

The same thing occurred in Georgia in September: local precincts has only 25 paper ballots on hand, but failed to ask for more from election officials.

What to Do: Voters should be offered paper ballots at the polls if the machines are down -- and these ballots should be counted as regular, not "provisional." If election officials run out, they should call for more. And again, if this causes a delay, the polls should stay open longer to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised.

Finally, a reminder to everyone heading out to the polls: there is a nonpartisan hotline you can call with any problems you encounter -- the Election Protection Hotline, at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. EFF attorneys will be standing by to monitor and help resolve technical problems.

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