Monday, October 29, 2007

Undervoted Ballots Need Solution

Undervoted ballots to some are a unique individual voter statement during an election. A voter can choose to vote for less than the number of candidates in a single race, and/or leave portions of the ballot blank, or undervoted. There's a but. Historically, there has been absolutely no way to determine whether the voter made a mistake, or whether the voting system - even if the system was the mechanical lever machines used in Pennsylvania and elsewhere for decades, or the current replacements, the direct recording "electronic" machines, are responsible for such omissions.

Even if paper ballots are used, there is no guarantee the ballot will not contain stray marks later to be interpreted by a "review" board, and there is no way to check whether the ballots are handled correctly.

The solution: simple. A selection on the voting system titled, No Choice. In other words in a race where only one candidate is to be selected the voter could select No Choice. In a race where 2 candidates are to be selected, the voter could select one candidate's name and ignore a second selection by choosing No Choice.

Voters should have a right to vote for nobody at the polling place and have their voice heard.

Counties stand by touch-screen voting

By staff and wire reports
Friday, October 26, 2007

On Election Day, residents in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Butler counties will vote on the same brand of touch-screen electronic machines widely blamed for skewing a Florida congressional race last year.
Electronic machines have caused controversy ever since Congress mandated the transition after the 2000 election debacle in Florida.

In all, 19 of 31 Western Pennsylvania counties use Election Systems & Software's iVotronics voting machine -- the same one used in Florida.

Armstrong County is the only local county that doesn't.

...Federal funding paid all $12.5 million for Allegheny County's machines for the 2006 primary election.

Critics contend some problems don't get noticed because what voters punch into the machines can't be monitored.

"I don't see how they can say the machines are reliable when they have no way of showing whether the machines are reliable," said Chester County attorney Marian K. Schneider, who took state officials to court last year to ban use of iVotronics and other machines.

The case is before the state Supreme Court.

"Touch-screen machines are bad for voting," said one of the plaintiffs, Danny Sleator, 53, of Squirrel Hill, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor. "They're too vulnerable to both machine errors (and) calibration errors ... as well as nefarious manipulation of the vote."

Black Box Voting, a nonprofit elections watchdog, reports e-voting glitches -- such as 19,000 voters in one Indiana county somehow casting 144,000 votes in 2003, and the disappearance of 70 ballot "memory cards" in Ohio last year.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has pushed for a law requiring all machines to produce a voter-verified record. The bill is awaiting House action.

In Sarasota County, Fla., the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigated whether 1,590 iVotronics machines created 18,000 undervotes, which occur when a person doesn't vote for every open office on a ballot.

It decided "certain components of the voting systems" worked correctly, but said more tests were needed to determine if the machines were defective.

The 18,000 undervotes occurred in Republican-leaning Sarasota County, where Democrat Christine Jennings edged out Republican Vern Buchanan by 6,855 votes. Jennings, however, lost the 13th Congressional District race by 369 votes.

ES&S, the iVotronic maker, said a review concluded "there is no evidence to support the position that the iVotronic touch-screens caused votes to be lost."

"Each piece of technology, each voting system --- including the iVotronic -- is secure," spokeswoman Amanda Brown said. "And it goes through a number of reviews ... to ensure it's safe and accurate and secure."

GAO findings have little impact on Sarasota County, whose residents voted to return to paper ballots during the same election in which the undervotes occurred. The machines cost them $4.7 million six years ago. Officials only have recouped about $1 million.

"Voter confidence is important and if it's going to make the people feel better and trust the system they're using, then it's a good thing," said Kathy Dent, Sarasota County's supervisor of elections. "There's no such thing as a perfect system."

Mary Kohart is a Philadelphia attorney who's worked to ban some machines.

"We can do way better and we should do way better," Kohart said. "Odds are that the election will be accurately counted. ... But, this is an election. We shouldn't have to rely on the odds."


Tribune-Review News Service reporters and staff writer Charlie Ban contributed to this report.

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