Sunday, June 04, 2006

Another Reason To Question Reliability Of Voting Machines

An item today in a column by the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette's Niki Kelly about the voting machines Allen Co. used in Indiana's May primary raises serious questions about the reliability of Microvote Infinity voting machines. Kelly writes:

Although the May primary has been over for more than a month, candidates still haven’t been able to find out exactly how they won.

Precinct-by-precinct results are often used by parties and candidates to see what parts of the city or county their votes came from and what areas where mprovement may be needed. The results are usually available soon after the election, but this year they still don’t exist.

The first time I ever watched election results being tallied at the county courthourse in Marshall, Illinois where I grew up, the results were handwritten on a chalk board outside the clerk's office precinct-by-precinct. An election veteran explained to me, then a 13-year old, how you could often predict whether a candidate would win long before the final results were tallied. He explained that some precincts favored one party over the other party, and a candidate of that party would traditionally win a precinct by a minimum percentage if it was a normal election. If a candidate's vote was off the traditional mark, that could spell problems for the candidate. Even better, certain precincts it was explained to me are like a microcosm of the county-wide vote. The results in those precincts were generally a mirror-image of the county-wide results. If a candidate carried one of these precincts, it was very likely he/she would carry the county. The total number of votes cast in a precinct also served as a benchmark for total voter turnout.

According to the item in Kelly's column, Allen Co. political observers have only been able to see the raw vote totals for each of the candidates. No information has been available on a precinct-by-precinct basis. Jeanne Nicolet, an assistant director of the Allen Co. Election Board, tells Kelly that the voting machines did not include a program to calculate results by precinct. Kelly also notes that the Microvote Infinity machines were not certified for use in the election, causing even more concern.

Not having the precinct-by-precinct vote totals prevents anyone from discerning whether there are certain irregularities in Allen Co. election returns. The fact that the machines lacked this simple calculating capability tells me that the person who developed the program knew very little about our elections. And the company's internal tester obviously knew little about elections, or he/she would have discovered the error quickly. Regardless, the error leaves little reason to have confidence in Microvote's voting machines.

6 comments:

Wilson46201 said...

As a precinct committeeperson of over 20 years, it was my experience that the tally is produced locally in each precinct and multiple copies are then sent to various entities, including one for each major political party...

Advance Indiana said...

Presumably the voting machines in Allen Co. were linked to a central database, which actually did the vote tallying.

Wilson46201 said...

so it would seem in Allen County but isn't there Hoosier law requiring initial tallying at each precinct or have all those old-fashioned checks-and-balances been chucked in favor of modern technology?

Dave Sanders said...

Here is an article I wrote on Newsvine about voting reform, talking a bit about Indiana's primaries and a letter I wrote to the News-Sentinel (which they didn't publish).

The whole issue is disturbing and distressing. Once we lose confidence in our elections, our democracy dies. This is a completely non-partisan issue, and every single voter should be screaming at the top of their lungs to their respective officials.

Advance Indiana said...

Dave--thanks for the link to your letter. Your points are very valid. As a former general counsel and project manager for a software company, I totally agree with your analysis of programming the work for a voting software program. As computer programs go, the coding should be relatively easy compared to other, more complex transactions. Any competent programmer should have no problem meeting the challenge.

Allen County Observer said...

At the end of the day on Election Day, the Inspector and precinct workers tally up the votes for each of their machines, then give that information to the Election Board. So the EB has hard copy information on each of the precincts - they would need to add up the two machines at each precinct but somehow that doesn't strike me as an impossible task. I don't understand why it has taken them a month to type in a spreadsheet, make sure the numbers add up to the total votes cast, and then stick it on their website.