An unfair system for paper ballots

iVoted.jpgAs others have already mentioned, today is election day here in California. For any of you who have voted in Orange County in the past couple of years, or even earlier today, you will know that Orange County uses electronic voting machines instead of paper ballots. The exact machine used is the Hart eSlate which has had problems before, including right here in Orange County in which some precincts had more ballots cast than registered voters. Because of this, I haven’t yet used an eSlate in a real election, instead I’ve always asked for a paper ballot.

Today, just like in every other election, I asked to use a paper ballot. I found out that the Orange County Registrar of Voters has changed the way voters who use paper ballots vote. Instead of being given one of the old style ballots, they are given a provisional ballot. While this might not seem like a big deal on the surface, let me explain why it is.

Provisional ballots might not be counted. While I know there are many provisional ballots that are counted, and there are good reasons for many others not to be counted, there is not guarantee that my ballot will be counted as it should be. My ballot is now lumped in with people who, for whatever reason, weren’t on the voting rolls. I’m sure that the default mentality when processing provisional ballots is that there is something wrong with them, and that most likely they will be thrown out.

Another reason I have a problem with using a provisional ballot is that, even though I am no the voter roll, I had to fill out all of my voter information and put it with my ballot. My vote is no longer private, I should not be forced to reveal what I voted for just because I do not trust the voting machines employed by my County.

The use of provisional ballots for people requesting paper ballots seems to be a tactic with the sole purpose of discouraging voters from using paper ballots. They are being asked to fill out a voter registration form and other information, even though they are on the voter roles. If they don’t want to fill this information out, their vote will not be counted.

I can understand why the Registrar of Voters wants people to use the electronic voting machines, they have a whole set of cool new statistics online that have never been available before. However, that should not come at the cost of the elections legitimacy, real or imagined. The foundation of any democracy is the legitimacy of their elections. While the votes may be tallied perfectly in this election, it is also possible that there will be a problem, and the kicker is that we would never know the difference. That’s the real problem with this process, it is to closed off and obfuscated to the voters.

If you go through this process as well, I encourage you to call the California Secretary of State Elections Division at (916) 657-2166 and register a complaint. The County won’t do a thing for you if you try to appeal to them, so go right to the Secretary of State and hopefully something will be changed in Orange County’s election system before the next time we all head to the polls.

[UPDATE] The Secretary of State’s Office just called me back, and said that there had been a few similar complaints today. They had called the Assistant Orange County Registrar of Voters to ask about it, and the procedures he faxed up to them said that people voting by paper ballot did not have to fill out the voter registration information. However, when I talked with the Registrar of Voters’ Office, they said that if I didn’t fill it out and sign it my vote wouldn’t be counted. I could understand a poll worker giving me incorrect information, but the Registrar of Voters’ Office should know what is going on. They said they would call me back to update me on the reasoning for this system once they have a chance to talk with the Registrar of Voters more. Understandably, the Registrar and the Secretary of State’s Office are a bit busy today.

7 Comments so far

  1. Michael Doss (unregistered) on November 8th, 2005 @ 3:06 pm

    What a pain the ass! I used a paper ballot in last year’s election, and was planning on doing it again tonight. Now I feel like I REALLY should.

  2. Terry Chen (unregistered) on November 8th, 2005 @ 4:08 pm

    I can see why people want a paper ballot. And if it weren’t for the fact that I was in a rush to get to work, and that there were a bajillion people in line, i’d probably ask for a paper ballot too.

  3. Sekrit Poll Worker (unregistered) on November 9th, 2005 @ 11:07 am

    Orange County’s previous problems with eSlates — the ‘more ballots cast per precinct than registered voters’ problem — was not an issue in this election. A brief overview of the problem:
    In previous elections, the RoV consolidated things such that multiple precincts voted at a single polling place.Because of that, the poll worker running the JBC (the box that prints your ‘access code’) was supposed to take note of each voter’s precinct, so that their eSlate would present the appropriate ballot, and so that their vote would be recorded in the appropriate precinct.Poll workers were either confused by the precinct-selection mechanism (or spaced out and ignored it entirely, just punching the first button in the list), so that voters got the wrong ballots, and votes were recorded as occuring in a precincts other than where voters were actually registered.

    . . . this issue could not have come up in this election, because each polling place was for one precinct only. Hopefully the RoV will get its user-interface issues straighted out before their next consolidated-precincts election — if they ever decide to hold an election like that again.

    As an atypical poll worker (mid-30s, Slashdot-reading, EFF-member tech guy), I was pretty skeptical of OC’s use of electronic voting before I had a chance to look at the system in depth. But Hart’s system looks pretty good to me. There’s never any connection to a public network (no Internet, no modem); all access into the JBC is through ports that are tamperproof-sealed until the machine is returned to the RoV. The only avenues for fraud that I could see were either physically heisting one of the machines and somehow managing to get it back into the vote stream, or having a set of crooked poll workers cast additional ballots (and signing next to a corresponding number of unvoted-yet-registered voters’ names in the signature roster). These vulnerabilities — stealing a ballot box, casting fraudulent ballots — are the same ones that you’d have in a completely paper election.

    As for paper ballots and provisional envelopes: poll workers are supposed to get you to fill out and sign the envelope (although the poll workers’ guide was unfortunately vague on whether ‘fill out’ meant just the front, or the front and back — I apologized for giving people ‘the envelope of pain’). However, you can refuse to sign the envelope

  4. Grant (unregistered) on November 9th, 2005 @ 11:42 am

    I’m glad the OC RoV fixed the problems that it had previously. However, that does not mean these machines won’t have other problems in the future. Having more ballots cast in a precinct than registered voters is a very obvious problem, one that is easy to catch. What if there are smaller problems that aren’t as easy to catch?

    I all honesty, I’m not that worried about election fraud. I don’t really worry that somebody is going to break into the machines and alter peoples votes or that poll workers are going to stuff the ballot box, so to speak. I’m worried about the computer just doing something wrong. There is no way to ensure that the computers are tallying the votes correctly. There is no way for voters to know what goes on inside the computer at all.

    Computerized voting systems need to have software that voters can inspect. They also need to print a paper ballot that voters turn in so the RoV can spot check the results and ensure the computers are working as they should.

    About the process for people like me who requested a paper ballot, I should not have had to fill out the envelope at all. I should have just had to fill in my ballot, put it in the envelope, and put it in the box. The RoV was trying to discourage people from using paper ballots and that’s where I have my problem.

  5. Lynn (unregistered) on November 9th, 2005 @ 11:44 am

    Why not just vote absentee? You don’t need a special reason, and it’s much easier overall. You can become a permanent absentee voter and then you don’t need to send in the request each time.

  6. Michael Doss (unregistered) on November 9th, 2005 @ 2:52 pm

    By law, I don’t need a special reason to request a paper ballot – but I had to go through the same process as Grant. I’m going to be making my phone calls tomorrow.

  7. Rob (unregistered) on November 9th, 2005 @ 3:34 pm

    I called and complained.

    I was really mad about having to do that, but I didn’t think to complain about it. The lady I spoke with was actually very nice, and took all my info, so if they call me back I’ll post a followup.

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