Tuesday, April 18, 2006

rage against the voting machines

indiana primaries are coming up in a couple weeks, and things are going to be hectic. for starters, indiana recently passed a voter ID bill that was recently upheld on appeal. seems like a recipe for disenfranchisement to me, though republicans naturally disagree (though they only seem to offer anecdotal evidence) and say there was no partisanship in their support for the bill (even while accusing democrats of partisanship for opposing the bill). i guess we'll see what happens.

but ID problems are just the beginning of indiana's election issues this year.

turns out there have been a number of glitches with the ballots and voting machines. last week, news came out that vendor ES&S had not been living up to the terms of its contract:

ES&S delivered the first batch of ballots March 27, more than a week after the deadline to mail absentee ballots to voters. Sadler said proofreading by election officials found they were rife with mistakes.

Subsequent batches have turned up new mistakes, causing election officials to question whether the company could correct the problems in time. Sadler said the name of one Lawrence candidate for state representative was left off the ballot.

another vendor, microvote, is also in trouble, and ES&S is also facing problems in other states.

the next day, marion county realized it had no choice but to give up on touch-screen voting, despite the fact that doing so is probably a violation of federal law:

"This is not a willful announcement of breaking the law," Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler said. "It's a report that we can't physically comply because the vendor hasn't provided what they are supposed to provide."

The Help America Vote Act requires all voters be able to cast a ballot privately and independently, so Marion County spent $3.8 million in 2003 to buy 615 touch-screen machines for people with disabilities.

without the touch-screen machines, those disabled voters will require assistance to use the old-school optical optical scanning machines, in violation of the help america vote act.

on top of all that, TDW reported yesterday about problems with absentee ballots: minor problems like republican candidates showing up on democratic ballots. oops!

the news was flooded last night with reports of successful tests. but the big test of voting machines was this morning. surprise, surprise: they failed, and school board ballots in marion county will need to be counted by hand.

forgive me if i don't buy the spin that ES&S was not at fault for this morning's spectacular failure:

Some of Marion County's votes in the May 2 primary election will have to be counted by hand, but election officials say it is not the fault of voting system vendor Election Systems and Software.

Election workers finished testing the tabulation equipment Tuesday morning. It counted all sample ballots accurately, except those for the Washington and Decatur Township school board races.

Election officials said the school board ballots in those townships are so complicated that the software is unable to handle them, 6News' Norman Cox reported.

hold on a second: if the ballots are too complicated for the software, that suggests there's a problem with the software. indiana needs software that is capable of handling indiana ballots. ES&S clearly did not provide software with this capability. it seems glaringly obvious to me that ES&S is at least partly at fault. now, maybe indiana's ballots are more complicated than they should be. and it's perfectly possible that county clerk doris sadler is also partly to blame. but let's not give ES&S a pass for incompetence.

update: TDW explains the problem with microvote:

Apparently, 47 counties are currently using equipment that hasn't been certified by the State. But, you say, how did this happen? MicroVote, the vendor providing the equipment and software, says they told all these counties that they were updating the machines with uncertified software, but there are some doubts about that.

Regardless of who's at fault, here's what has to happen: The State must certify these machines before May 2, or all 47 counties are going to be left having to hand count their ballots.

The kicker? The only penalty the State can impose on MicroVote (beyond turning over information for possible criminal prosecution) is to prevent them from doing business in Indiana for five years.

i don't know why the counties would agree to let microvote install uncertified software; that sounds like a lie. occam's razor would suggest that microvote installed uncertified software without the counties' knowledge.

a lot of poll workers could be up very late come primary day.

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