Thursday, October 23, 2008

Republicans work with Electronic Voting Machines in attempt to foil Democracy

Anyone who has spent any time with me has likely heard my long, detailed and, I would argue, well-informed rant about various methods of electronic voting (e-voting). Earlier this year, I turned my rant into an academic assignment for my Constitutional Law class, which takes the form of another blog, E-Voting and the Canadian Constitution.

Here's a huge problem for you: "A new Government Accountability Office report on voting system testing [PDF] finds that the Election Assistance Commission has not notified election officials across the country about electronic voting machine failures. And a new study [PDF] by Common Cause and the Century Foundation finds that 10 very vital swing states have significant voting problems that have not been addressed since the last election" (CNN, links added).

Not surprisingly, the machines are already causing problems in the American election, and reports out of Florida say that "ballot-reading machines failed in Duval County, while in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek is threatening to file a lawsuit because some polling places have too few voter machines to handle the crowds." Also, in Texas, "voting machines failed in several locations this week. Voters in the Acres Homes area of Houston were told to go home and come back later when the machines were fixed. Meanwhile, the computer mainframe crashed under the weight of the heavy turnout in Corpus Christi and surrounding Nueces County, election officials said. (MSNBC). At Huffington Post, Jim McKay is reporting problems expressed by Democratic voters in West Virginia who claim the machines are casting votes for McCain when they touch the part of the screen to vote for Obama. CNN is now reporting the same, though it seems the individuals they spoke to were assisted by a poll worker when they brought up the problem.

It never ceases to amaze me the degree of reliance placed on the voting machines in the United States despite the myriad of well-documented problems they cause. Why weren't the Texans who were told to go home instead given a provisional ballot? How many of them will actually return when the machines are "fixed"? If you know how many voters are registered, shouldn't you be able to estimate quite readily the number of machines you'll need on hand so that people don't have to wait in line for hours to cast their vote?

There is some good news: "Denver, Colorado, for example, is going back to paper poll book registration for this election." This is as a result of people running into difficulty due to nit-picky software that doesn't understand things like the fact that "Alex" is a valid truncation of the name "Alexander", which your average human poll worker would be able to acknowledge so that such an Alex(ander) would be able to register/vote despite this minor discrepancy in their legal name. I'm hoping/predicting that more states will display this sort of back-pedaling away from reliance on technology in the voting process.

Also, the entire state of Florida has done away with hanging chads and touch-screen voting machines, and replaced them with optical scan machines. The advantage of optical scan machines, particularly in a state with Florida's reputation, is that there is a paper trail. Individuals vote on paper by filling in a circle on the ballot, and a machine counts the filled-in circles. This allows for efficient counting and the option of a manual recount wherein those counting can scrutinize the marks made on each ballot by voters. This change, while not without problems (as seen above, the counting machines are on the fritz), is better than no change at all. (I'm not quite sure how this jives with the Common Cause report which listed Florida among the 10 states who haven't addressed their problems since last election, but I admittedly haven't read the report yet).

What is more disconcerting than long lines at polling stations is what the Republicans are trying to do regarding the advent of advance polls in some US states. In Indiana, a judge is weighing arguments in a motion to halt early voting and throw out the votes in heavily Democratic Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, where Republicans allege a procedural violation in the elections board’s vote to approve the voting locations."(MSNBC). UPDATE (25 Oct): The Republicans have lost this challenge (Indiana Law Blog). They've already lost a legal challenge to early voting and same-day registration in Ohio (Washington Independent).

It's no wonder they're trying to throw out as many votes as they can - officials in the twenty-nine states holding early voting are reporting record turnout (CNN), and it's the Dems who are turning out in droves.

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