Friday, May 18, 2007

Fayette County Saga of Electronic Voting

An article in the Herald-Standard today Poll problems challenged election officials By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard 05/18/2007 has highlighted the long lines throughout the county of Fayette on election day.

We noted the unacceptable occurrence in a previous post.

Long Lines at Polls Hour Waits

We've also presented a solution which doesn't include a replacement of our current eSlate machines with the formidable and controversial electronic touch-screen voting machine system.

The solution is the option of paper ballots with optical scan readers.

Both Hart Intercivic's eSlate and eScan are certified for use in Pennsylvania.

According to the Help America Vote Act's requirements, there is to be one handicapped accessible voting system per precinct available. For Fayette that means 103 handicapped accessible units.

A second unit and third and fourth if necessary do not have to be equipped with the handicapped accessible features as the initial unit and they are not.

Those additional units can include the eScans known as an optical scan voting system which Hart Intercivic produces and incorporates into its overall system.

Further, because of the Help america Vote Act's requirements for second chance voting and handicapped accessibility, the eScan voting system is usable to provide the second chance voting.

The eScan, used in Boulder County, is a precinct-based, digital ballot-imaging component that relies on the fully integrated functionality of the Hart Voting System. After marking a paper ballot, the voter feeds it directly into the eScan at the precinct. The ballot image is stored as a Cast Vote Record on a Mobile Ballot Box flash memory card that can be retrieved and tabulated by Hart’s Tally application. eScan's capabilities include functionality to reject overvoted, undervoted and blank ballots, thereby providing second-chance voting at the precinct.

This isn't to claim that there are not the potential for problems associated with paper ballot optical scan systems. The Internet is replete with the Hursti Report and so forth for your own research purposes. A visit to Black Box Voting Forum is an absolute must for reading and obtaining valuable information.

But if the county of Fayette needs a solution to long lines at the polling place and the potential for more disenfranchisement of voters in November 2007, it is not to replace our current voting system with touch screen machines.

And the solution isn't to obtain 3rd, 4th, or 5th eSlate voting machines.

The issue absolutely does need to be studied more prior to the presidential election of 2008.

It may be that the next administration of county commissioners will determine another vendor that provides an automark paper ballot system which is fully handicapped accessible should replace Hart Intercivic's offerings. It may be that Hart Intercivic is in the development stages of adding on the accessibility features to the eScans.

At this time, with a mere few months fastly going, Fayette has to address the situation of voters leaving the polls before voting, thus foregoing their right to vote, and the situation of unfamiliarity of the machines, and the cumbersome eSlate turn wheel that takes a long time to use to cast a write-in vote.

The only way to address those situations is with a paper ballot optical scan system. Now.

In addition, there were incidences of problems with using the eSlate for the offices of justices on the ballot. Those have not yet been reported upon, and the board of commissioners needs to make a full report on any and all such reported problems.

Net the Truth Online opinion

Prior to the current board of county commissioners purchasing the eSlate only voting system back in March 2006, a series of informative emails had been sent to each of them requesting consideration of purchasing both the Hart Intercivic eSlate and eScan voting systems.

The final letter to Fayette Commissioners Thursday, March 30, 2006 is duplicated here to show the 2006 board of commissioners was well aware a year ago that at least one other county with the Hart Intercivic vendor had selected the dual system to provide citizens with a choice of using either the electronic eSlate (handicapped accessible) or the eScan (paper ballot with optical scan reader/counter.

In the event the current board of commissioners determines more machines are needed for November's election, the commissioners should revisit the contract with Hart Intercivic.

They should contact Bedford and Lancaster counties to determine how their dual systems worked during the past elections, particularly this election.

Our board should provide a system that gives voters the choice on election day of which system to use as their preference.

That can include one eSlate (DAU) unit for each precinct (handicapped accessible per HAVA requirements) and one - or more if necessary - eScans.

Anything less at this time for Fayette County is unacceptable.

My final letter to Board of Fayette County Commissioners Thursday, March 30, 2006

Since the board of commissioners has not yet finalized a contract with Hart InterCivic concerning the purchase of the eSlate voting machines, I am supplying further information to the board to consider providing the voters of Fayette County with both the eSlate and eScan (Hart InterCivic) units at each precinct polling place.

Lancaster County chose to have one eSlate (DAU) and one eScan (Precinct Digital Capture of Voter Selection) for voters to have a choice at the polling place on Election Day. Comments made in the article linked convinced me this would be right for Fayette.

“I found the electronic machine was very easy,” said John Dodson, of Conoy Township, after getting an explanation of how the eSlate works and taking the time to play with the machine.

His wife, Ruth Dodson, agreed, and said the eScan, which reads marks on paper ballots, is a good way to keep a paper trail of votes.

“I think it’s a doable thing,” said one poll worker, who asked not to be named; while older people still are likely to be uncomfortable with a new way of voting, the combination of electronic and paper ballots gives voters a choice of technologies.

The Lancaster system seems to satisfy the person who found the eSlate easy to use, the person who felt the eScan was suitable for a paper trail, and according to the poll worker, the combination of electronic and paper ballots gives voters a choice of technologies.

The following chart shows how Hart InterCivic utilizes both the eSlate (Disabled Access Unit) and eScan Precinct Digital Capture of Voter Selection.

Unfortunately the Pennsylvania legislature has not yet acted on the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail for electronic voting systems.

With the eScan - voters (who also don't want to vote absentee because second-chance voting is not afforded) will have the opportunity to use the paper-ballot at the voting precinct in accordance with second-chance voting (a HAVA requirement), and most importantly, the capability to verify their ballot on paper.

In the event Fayette doesn't provide the paper-ballot eScan Optical Scan Reader (PA certified 1/30/06), I am attempting to find information to answer whether it is a right of a citizen to demand the use of a paper ballot at the polling place on Election Day.

Poll problems challenged election officials
By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard
Updated 05/18/2007 12:20:22 AM EDT
An extensive ballot and unfamiliarity with the new electronic voting machines apparently combined to make it a very long day for some of the Fayette County voters who took to the polls for Tuesday's municipal primary.

Laurie Lint, director of the Fayette County Election Bureau, said she spent most of Wednesday fielding complaints about problems that occurred throughout the county on Election Day. Lint said people complained that lines at the polls were too long and some voters complained that they didn't like the machines. Tuesday marked only the third election with the machines, which replaced the lever machines that were used in the county for decades.

Fred Lebder, chairman of the Fayette County Democratic Party, said a lot of people did not vote. Lebder said it took him 45 minutes to vote at Third Presbyterian Church in Uniontown and he spoke with someone who said it took an hour and 15 minutes for him to vote.

"There is no question a lot of people went to the polls and didn't vote because of the time factor," Lebder said. "When I was there people left (without voting)."

Last year, the county commissioners voted to purchase 268 eSlate voting machines from Hart Intercivic of Texas, after a federal mandate requiring the purchase of electronic machines throughout the country. The machines cost $2,500 each.

The eSlate voting machines are not touch-screen machines; instead, voters must turn a dial and push buttons to register their choices on the screen. "The machines are probably the worst things they could have gotten," Lebder said, although he added that once you vote on them, they are not that bad.

Lebder said in elections with the old lever machines, there was always a model machine at every poll, but nothing like that is being done today.

Vincent Zapotosky, who received one of the two Democratic nominations for Fayette County commissioner, said the county commissioners should have invested in more voter-friendly machines.

"I saw people walk away," Zapotosky said. "This dial thing is ridiculous."

Zapotosky said he knows of at least one woman who votes at Clark School in North Union Township who did not vote. "I lost a vote at Clark School," Zapotosky said.

According to unofficial results with 103 out of 103 precincts reporting, 27,590 of the county's 89,403 registered voters went to the polls, or slightly less than 31 percent. Lebder had predicted a turnout of about 44 percent.

Lebder said some people might not have come out to vote because they were in doubt of the machines. He said the machines used in the county are not the ones the election director recommended.

Sushila Warman, judge of elections for Uniontown's First Ward where voting is held at the Jewish Community Center, said the lines were so long that the final ballot wasn't cast until 9:30 p.m., an hour and a half after the polls closed.

Warman said the two voting machines at that polling place were insufficient to accommodate voters, especially with such a lengthy ballot for city residents.

"Many discouraged people left without voting at all and it appears Ward 1 was not the only precinct in this predicament," said Warman, urging the the commissioners to purchase additional machines.

Lint said it is not uncommon for polling places to remain open after voting ends at 8 p.m., particularly when there is a longer ballot.

Commission Chairwoman Angela M. Zimmerlink, who visited several polling places throughout Tuesday, said she received both negative and positive feedback from people. Among the negative feedback was a woman who had difficulty finding a parking place at the Jewish Community Center, a judge of election at Redstone Recreation Center typing in the access code too soon (which expires in 10 minutes if you have not logged into a machine) and long lines at Third Presbyterian Church in Uniontown.

Among the complaints that have been made to the Herald-Standard are that some people inadvertently voted before they were finished making their selections.

Lint said what voters need to remember is that hitting the "cast ballot" light "is the same as opening the curtain" with the old lever machines, only when you push it, the voting session is over.

Zimmerlink said that although for most voters this was the third time using the machines, "some people young and old alike did forget how to use them." Zimmerlink said she did not get any complaints from people who left without voting, but did talk to one person who said they felt like leaving.

Zimmerlink said since the machines were purchased, she believes the county has made great improvements in getting the word out. She said prior to the primary, HSTV and Armstrong Cable ran instructional videos, and the county libraries had tapes on hand and an interactive demonstration is available on the county's Web site.

Zimmerlink said that additionally, a sample machine was available outside the election bureau office in the Public Safety Building for the past few weeks. She said she doesn't agree that at this time purchasing additional machines is the answer. "People need to realize it is not an issue of money. There are ways to make additional improvements," Zimmerlink said.

The number of machines at each precinct was determined last year by calculating the number of voters and average turnout in the last several elections, Zimmerlink said. "We purchased more than we thought we needed," she said.

Last year's primary and general elections went more smoothly, with Zimmerlink saying she believes the lengthy ballot this time around contributed to problems.

She said in addition to the public demonstrations held for the machines, there are instructions in the voting booth and posters outside the voting booths. Zimmerlink said the she is not necessarily an advocate of the electronic machines, saying she would have kept the lever machines if that were an option. She said the new machines make the voter more aware of what they are doing because you have to take your time and read.

Although Zimmerlink said she heard from about a half-dozen people that the county should have purchased touch screen machines, she believes the dial machines are more voter friendly than the other ones the commissioners could have chosen...

Letter to editor online posted to Herald Standard May 18, 2007 (Poll problems challenged election officials By Amy Zalar, Herald-Standard 05/18/2007)

The solution to the situations that arose during the Primary is not touch-screen voting machines. Those would be a nightmare as has been shown around the country.

The solution is the option for voters to have a choice at the polling place. That choice includes a paper ballot based system.

Hart Intercivic makes both the eSlate electronic voting machine and the sScan paper ballot optical scan electronic voting machine.

Both are certified by the state of Pennsylvania.

4 Pennsylvania counties selected Hart Intercivic systems. But unlike Fayette, Bedford and Lancaster counties selected a dual system for their voters: the turn-wheel eSlate and the paper ballot based eScan.

Should the county have to purchase more electronic voting machines for November, the county commissioners should strike a new deal with Hart Intercivic to employ at least one paper ballot optical scan voting system - eScan - in each precinct.

Like Bedford and Lancaster counties, voters who arrive at the polling place should be afforded a choice of voting systems.

Those counties could be contacted to determine how their dual voting systems worked during the past voting experiences.

It may be that long lines are not able to be prevented, however, use of a paper ballot based voting system has the added advantage of providing a true paper ballot at the polling place.

That should be afforded as a right of the individual voter to have that choice.

Bedford County debuts eSlate voting machines

New voting machines draw crowd By Helen Colwell Adams Sunday News
Published: Mar 18, 2006 11:35 PM EST

Chart shows how the two systems eSlate and eScan could be used in county-wide elections.

About eScan
The eScan is a precinct-based, digital ballot-imaging component that relies on the fully integrated functionality of the Hart Voting System. After marking a paper ballot, the voter feeds it directly into the eScan at the precinct. The ballot image is stored as a Cast Vote Record on a Mobile Ballot Box flash memory card that can be retrieved and tabulated by Hart’s Tally application. eScan's capabilities include functionality to reject overvoted, undervoted, and blank ballots, thereby providing second-chance voting at the precinct.

This display shows the eSlate system which uses Ballot Now for tabulating of absentee ballots. The foregoing system display showed use of both the eSlate and the eScan, and is very clear on the differences.
Electronic Voting System - eSlate®

The eSlate System automates the balloting and tabulation process, eliminating the need to work with multiple paper ballot styles and offering accuracy, security and efficiency. The components provide central, regional, and precinct tabulation, as well as complete reporting and auditing, making the eSlate System a comprehensive and integrated election solution.


submitted Tuesday March 28, 2006 to Fayette commissioners via email

I breathed a long sigh of relief when Fayette Commissioners unanimously chose a non-touch screen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system, Hart InterCivic’s eSlate.

I remember the Hart InterCivic representative’s refrain from the meetings held at the Election Bureau in January for poll workers, judges of election, commissioners, and the public - Tough Screen versus Touch Screen.

What a difference one letter makes.

All vendors responded to a series of questions about security, battery backup, hard-drives, and the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. Lifetime of the units, memory storage, handicapped accessibility, data flow, and transmission of results were discussed. Vendors supplied informational brochures.

Hart InterCivic’s White Paper Securing the eSlate Electronic Voting System Application Security Information is also online as well as demonstration of the eSlate as linked from the Fayette County website.

My sigh of relief continued after locating (Internet) supportive material. An Austin Chronicle piece, “How Safe Is Your E-Vote?” touted Hart InterCivic’s eSlate as “an apparently more reliable product,” as distinguished from systems known as “touch-screen” which have suffered “reports of malfunctions, computer or human in origin, that have caused problems in actual elections. Among other things, there have been instances of more votes being registered than were actually cast, voters pressing on one candidate but the machine registering the vote for another, or votes simply vanishing.”

The article covers technical and security-related concerns which have been the focus of computer scientists around the country. ”Perhaps most important, the eSlate system has no external connections – no hookups to phone lines, the Internet, or an intranet. While some systems allow results to be sent by modem to a central vote-counting facility, the eSlate is comparatively old-fashioned – much like an old-style ballot box, the devices ("mediums") into which votes are recorded are removed by the election judges after the polls close and physically transported to the central counting station.“

My sigh of relief was intact. No modems, no touch screen, no phone lines.

Then, citizen activists pointed me to an October 2005 Government Accountability Office report entitled: “Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, but Key Activities Need to Be Completed.”

I found Lawrence Norden’s November 28, 2005 piece “Following up on an important GAO report on electronic voting” which posed “Questions for your state and local election officials raised by the Government Accountability Office Report.”

Doubt about all electronic voting systems surfaced, not just “touch screens.”

Remember the Voter Verified (Verifiable) Paper Audit Trail?

According to the GAO report, there are concerns with defining and agreeing on it. Experts have varying positions.

Vivion Vinson interviewed Dr. Ted Selker who developed “his own method for paperless, secure electronic voting” and Dr. Rebecca Mercuri who developed “a model for secure electronic voting with a paper ballot.”

Faced with the commissioners about to enter a contract with Hart InterCivic, and all of this information, I recalled how I felt after personally using the electronic DREs at Election Bureau meetings.

I had no visible paper record of the ballot about to be finally cast. I could see my selections on the eSlate screen, but couldn’t review and verify my selections according to Rebecca Mercuri’s method.

What’s the solution? Should Fayette wait until computer experts all agree, or for Harrisburg and the Federal Government to iron out differences of opinion on audit trails and other technical issues?

Should Fayette revert to an all paper-ballot system with hand counts?

Of course not, the whole point of technology is to cut down on problems inherent in paper-ballot voting, namely over-votes which result in spoiled discarded and uncounted ballots and under-votes or a blank ballot which may be re-interpreted incorrectly when hand-counted.

But like Lancaster County, which adopted both Hart InterCivic’s eSlate and eScan, Fayette Commissioners have in their power a means to provide a choice of a different kind to all voters at the polling place.

Commissioners have not yet “signed” a contract with Hart InterCivic

When they do, it should be for a mix of both Hart InterCivic’s eSlate and eScan.

Both machines comply with HAVA and are PA-certified.

Related material and information

Vote Fix

Paper Ballot Make it a Voter Choice

Holding Breath Will Fayette Purchase Paper Ballot eScan and Electronic eSlate?

submitted Tuesday March 28, 2006 to Fayette commissioners via email

Activists Absent?

Know it: Second Chance Voting

Opinion: None of the Above

7 PM Wednesday, March 22, 2006 Uniontown (PA): according to a 7 PM HSTV News 19 report, (transcript) the Fayette County Board of Commissioners chose unanimously Hart InterCivic's e-slate voting system. Training sessions for judges of elections and poll workers may begin at the end of the month.

opinion submitted to Board of Fayette County commissioners via email
opinion posted Herald Standard "Commissioners to make decision on voting machines today" Added: Wednesday March 22, 2006 at 09:07 AM Vote None of the Above


Lancaster County escan test cards used caused glitches

Glitch to keep polls open until 9 p.m.
1 in 5 paper-ballot machines malfunction, causing delays.

By Jane Holahan, Anya Litvak And Ryan Robinson
Lancaster New Era
Published: Nov 07, 2006 2:31 PM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Last May, Lancaster County voting officials declared themselves pleased with the new eScan and eSlate voting machines used for the first time in the primary election.

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