Monday, January 07, 2008

Fayette Board Heard Demand Paper Ballot Opti-Scan

The Fayette board of county commissioners heard a citizen's demand for a polling-place right - a choice of the paper ballot with optical scan reader. Will they listen?

Prepared comment to Fayette County commissioners (Jan. 6, 2008 Special commissioners' meeting.)

It didn't go quite like the following pre-prepared comment, but the major points were highlighted during my presentation. Commissioner Vincent Vicites asked several pertinent questions which hopefully elicited answers which were helpful. After my comments, Commissioner Zimmerlink made several remarks.

She said the previous board which included Commissioner Vicites were presented with both the Hart InterCivic eSlates and the paper ballot eScans a few years back and the board then chose to go with only the DRE eSlates.

It's unfortunate, her most astonishing remark was the paper ballot with the optical scan reader is not a voter verified paper audit trail.

It is difficult to understand why the commissioner made such a comment.

The paper ballot with optical scan reader actually is a voter verified paper "record."

The DREs, even with the voter verified paper audit trail - or printed final selections behind a plastic window which the voter reviews but doesn't remove - cannot ever be considered to produce a voter verified paper "record" as the voter does not mark paper on a paper-less voting machine.

DRE-produced ballots later printed out on paper are merely images copied from the "digital" record - there is still no way to verify the way the voter actually voted was counted as cast, or even as the voter "intended" to cast.

The DRE even with what has been called the voter verified paper audit trail - retrofitted on the direct recording electronic machines when states certify - also cannot ever produce a paper record - the DRE can only reproduce a copy of a digital image stored in the machine's system.

The paper ballot is the only truly voter verifiable paper "record."

Net the Truth Online

Public Comment Jan. 7, 2008

I had emailed commissioners Vicites and Zapotosky prior to this with information. I didn't email Commissioner Zimmerlink as she had stated on the local WMBS talk radio program that her preference was to add more of the eSlates and not go with paper ballot optical scan, though she was aware other counties used them both.

I did ask VotePA members to contact all the commissioners. VotePA is a statewide voter integrity group, I believe originating in Greensburg. I trust you received their material.


The paper ballot optical-scan is the system of choice among many computer experts and voting integrity groups.

Lancaster County opted to go with the same vendor - Hart InterCivic - as Fayette but chose both the eslate and eScan to comply with requirements for handicapped accessibility, privacy and second chance voting at the polling place.

Using the eSlate, attempt to conduct one write-in with the daisy wheel dial. Recommendation is for each voter to take 3-minutes tops to vote on an eSlate. Voters who face the eSlate console, must turn the dial to each individual letter of a write-in candidate's name. This takes more than 3-minutes.

If you forget to leave a space between the first and last name, there is uncertainty that your vote will be counted by the machine.

Even if Pennsylvania had adopted the voter verified paper trail for DREs, that still wouldn't provide certainty your vote was counted, so importantly, counted correctly. You could review your ballot on the listing that remains behind a plastic screen, you could see that you electronically wrote in a few names, but you might miss that you didn't leave a space.

Will the machine reject the write-in vote? You cannot be sure.

At least with a paper ballot and the optical scan you have more of a certainty that your vote will be counted as cast - there is the same opportunity to review your selections before you cast the ballot.

If you make errors, the opti-scan notifies you of such, and according to state laws you are afforded up to two replacement ballots to make corrections or changes.

With the paper ballot, in a dispute if someone's name was spelled incorrectly and so the vote might be under dispute, at least there is a paper ballot - record - which the election board officials could review.

There is no such protection with a paperless voting machine or even with the voter verified paper audit trail as you still would be unsure whether the machine counted your vote if a write-in candidates' name was misspelled.

Another consideration is an undervoted ballot or one where the voter didn't vote for as many candidates in one office as allowed.

Florida encountered just such a situation with tens of thousands of ballots being blank using the electronic direct recording machines. To date, Florida is still unable to determine if blank ballots or portions of ballots left blank for key offices were machine error or voter intent.

Even had a voter verified paper audit trail been available, there would still be uncertainty as a print-out of the ballot is all that is available, a print-out from a digital image. Still, there is uncertainty the ballot was counted correctly and the voter's intent carried out to vote for none of the selections, thus a blank ballot.

On a paper ballot with the second chance voting the voter completes the paper ballot and carries it over to the optical scan reader. The reader notifies the voter of any errors, voting for more than allowed in one office, and undervoted areas, or blanks. The voter could then make corrections, or simply run the ballot through as intended - to make no selections, or none of the above.

There is greater certainty the voter's intent will be carried out - none of the above - with a blank ballot cast on a paper ballot with optical scan second chance voting.

I was fortunate to be appointed a judge of election in a local ward. Even during the initial election using the eSlates, where Fayette didn't see long lines and hour plus waits, voters complained about the machines and wished first for a return to the old lever machines. Their next option was for a paper ballot. I suggested to them they should contact the commissioners since the same company we are dealing with has a paper ballot with an optical scan reader, and to suggest the county acquire these in addition to what we have.

Calculations reveal that even if a voter takes only the recommended three minutes on the eSlate, that permits only 20 voters per hour per eSlate to vote.

How will adding only more eSlates solve long waits should voters show up in bunches during peak hours?

You should contact Lancaster County election officials to see how their system worked together and whether they had long lines.

Visit their website and review the how to vote using eScan.

My suggestion has been for commissioners to opt for a swap with Hart InterCivic.

Retain the handicapped accessible eSlate units. Per HAVA requirements, one handicapped accessible voting unit per precinct which is the eSlate with Hart. Since Fayette has 103 precincts, that would mean 103 eSlates.

My understanding from reports is Fayette has 268 eSlates.

Swap eSlate units for paper ballot eScans to give Fayette at least 103 eScans, possibly more. It surely takes less time to vote on the paper ballot and scan the ballot - including write-ins - than it would take on the eSlate - attempting to complete even one write-in vote.

Lancaster County has provided their voters with a choice of the eSlate and the paper ballot eScan. Why can't Fayette.

Finally, the primary concern is there is a paper ballot record in the event of any disputes or lawsuits or close races which may go challenged. This isn't just crucial in a presidential election which is upcoming in 2008. This should be a right retained by the people of Fayette as it is a right of the people of Lancaster County.

A paper ballot record of my vote, your vote, our votes. That should be an individual choice for every voter.

Face us at the next election with the knowledge that you've assured us a true voice and our voice will be heard whether we choose those selections on the ballot, make a write-in, or half a dozen write-ins, or choose none of the above.

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