Archive Logo.jpg

November 02, 2006

I voted yesterday, and participated in some Americana...

I voted, and you should too.  And if you are in a country where you can't - what's up with that?

This might be a bit of a boring post. *I* was fascinated. And since what I discuss here, voting, is part and parcel of the purpose of the military, it's every bit as important as all those artifacts I toss up on these pages anyway, yes?

I did my bit to prevent the spectre of a Speaker Pelosi. Since I skipped the primaries, not being registered to a party, this was my first chance to use the new electronic voting machines the county purchased. It was also a chance to participate in an interesting little convention - the "Public Test."

Under Kansas law (and I wouldn't be surprised if every state doesn't have some form of this) the ballot, voting machines and tabulation devices, including the procedures for handling the exceptions, must be demonstrated and examined publicly, to any and all interested persons. Around here, being a smallish community in a smallish county, it's not a terribly lavish affair.

There were three of us participating as observers/testers, and two county employees, the County Clerk (an elected position, Alan!) and her chief elections assistant. The observers consisted of a representative of the county Democratic and Republican parties, and myself, interested citizen who'd never seen this before. It's a minor good thing I was there, in a humorous way.

There were Reform and Libertarian candidates on the ballot, they could have had observers as well, if there were enough of them in the state to be that organized... In fact, the only limit to observers is the size of the venue, but hey, like I said, we aren't that crowded here in Leavenworth (thankfully!).

The test consisted of looking at the ballot and confirming that the proper slate was present, with proper party affiliations marked on the ballots, and provision for write ins. That done, Linda talked us through the process of how, by whom, and when the electronic ballots are created and safeguarded once loaded onto the devices which load the machines.

She then ran us through the process for opening a voting machine, and explained the process for opening a string of machines for polling places which will have multiple machines. We saw how the machines are zeroed, what the accounting processes are for the machines, the built-in redundancies (they operate on socket power with battery backup so that power outages don't affect voting) as well as the procedures when operating on battery power to rotate the machines to ensure that there are always machines available to vote on. Essentially, for polling places with more than two machines, you can have at least one up and running at any given time for 24 hours. We were shown the security measures built into the systems, which I won't detail here. Suffice it to say that with the system as demonstrated, it doesn't appear to be any easier to manipulate the system than the old paper ballot - and the two-man rules for handling things put a brake on the human element. Nothing is perfect. The electronic machines are not networked in any fashion.

Anyway - we saw all that and then we took pre-voted paper ballots and voted them on the electronic machines. During that process we were shown how voters could change votes and how the machines made it possible for the blind to vote with the same level of privacy as everyone else. Essentially, if you choose that option, the screen blanks, you wear headphones, and use braille-marked keys on the console to make your choices, which are then read back to you via the headphones so you can confirm your choices. If you don't know braille, the keys have distinctive shapes.

We had to enter write-in candidates, there were some races where we didn't vote for anyone (to deliberately create 'undervotes' to demonstrate the accounting process to ensure that undervotes don't get assigned to a candidate, by accident or nefarious design). On the electronic machines, unlike a paper ballot, you can't over vote by having too many circles filled in. In that sense, there will be fewer votes going to the resolution board to be judged in this system - and fewer still that don't get counted because the board feels they can't discern the voter's intent. If you undervote (as I did for uncontested races) the machine asks you twice, in two different ways, to confirm you don't want to vote for a particular race. BTW, Alan, I'm not sure of the actual count, but we had about 15 judges up for retention (Alan, our Canadian Contrarian, is tickled about all the jobs we 'Muricans get to vote on).

We then took the paper ballots over to the mechanical tabulator. Why paper ballots? They are the ultimate backup for power/hardware issues, they are still how absentee ballots are handled, and people who simply don't trust the electronic systems can use a paper ballot.

This is where I was useful. Because of the need to be able to take the tabulated data and collate it with the voting machine data, the Elections office had to buy a new machine. And while everything had worked fine in the previous election, and in all the previous testing, of course it failed when there were outsiders present. It wouldn't feed the ballots properly. They must have spent 45 minutes trying to get it to work - to include troubleshooting by phone with the manufacturer. In the end, they decided a service call (which costs money) was going to be required.

Enter the Armorer. I've been watching them fiddle with it, kinda (we did move on and do other stuff) and I was lingering around looking the feeder system over when I noticed that the bin that caught the counted ballot was not aligned properly. I reset it, we loaded up some ballots, and off we went - and the service call was canceled. If you are a taxpayer of Leavenworth county, you're welcome.

Anyway, we ran the ballots through, there were ballots that had typical errors on them and we went through that resolution process. We then took our various data, compared them to the benchmark data, and I am pleased to assure you that up to this point, at least, Leavenworth County is ready for next Tuesday (advance voting actually began 20 days before the general election, which is why I took advantage of voting yesterday, to avoid the crowds.

And confusticate the exit pollers, none of whom read this blog.

And my name is on the document as an observer! Hey, I got folded, bent, and spindled (no mutilation, thank heavens) as a Defender of the System, now I got to be a tiny little cog in the System. Whee!