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Sci Tech    H2'ed 7/27/08

In Defense of Lever Voting Machines

By       (Page 1 of 3 pages)   11 comments
Message Richard Hayes Phillips
Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D. Presented to the Regional Mensa Convention Columbus, Ohio, July 26, 2008

I am a native of upstate New York. I have been voting on lever machines since 1972. They may be old-fashioned, but their durability is proven by the very fact that they are still in service. I am not alone in trusting them. So does Bryan Pfaffenberger, Professor of Science and Technology at the University of Virginia, who was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study lever machines. Pfaffenberger agrees that the reliability of lever machines, which were expressly designed in response to fraudulent counting of paper ballots, "has been proven in a century of service." He concludes that, "the lever machine deserves recognition as one of the most astonishing achievements of American technological genius."

I am on record as an advocate of paper ballots, counted by hand, at the polling place, in full public view, on Election Night, no matter how long it takes. I arrived at this position as a direct result of an audit of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, undertaken at an unprecedented scale, under my direction. Rady Ananda, an election integrity advocate and a veteran of the Ohio investigation, is quite correct in stating that "our call for hand-counted paper ballots is directly related to our distrust of computerized voting systems."

Pfaffenberger believes "that there would be no such call for paper if the ugly history of fraudulent practices enabled by paper ballots were known." To the contrary, I am well aware of an astonishing variety of fraudulent methods utilized in Ohio, where, in the 2004 election, 85% of the votes were cast on paper -- 70% on punch card ballots, and 15% on paper ballots run through optical scanners. The other 15% of the votes were cast on electronic voting machines.

These methods of vote rigging are set forth in relentless detail in my book "Witness to a Crime: A Citizens' Audit of an American Election," which comes with a CD containing 1200 photographs of altered ballots and other forensic evidence from Ohio. But this is no reason to abandon paper ballots. To the contrary, it is the very reason to keep them. The existence of paper ballots is the very reason why we were able to prove that the 2004 Ohio election was fraudulent. Electronic voting machines were rigged as well, in Youngstown, Columbus, and Auglaize County, but in the absence of paper ballots, we have only eyewitness accounts and precinct canvass records to tell the tale.

The most important aspect of our proposed solution is that the votes be counted at the polling place. The minute the ballots leave the polling place, chain of custody questions arise, and the opportunity exists for ballot alteration, ballot substitution, ballot box stuffing, and ballot destruction, all of which we have documented in Ohio.

Crime scene investigators, in addition to collecting forensic evidence, look for three things: motive, means, and opportunity. There will always be a motive to rig an election and win the count. There will always be a means – whatever method of voting is used. Our only hope is to stop the opportunity. Breaks in the chain of custody are what provide the opportunity – whether at the factory, or at the polls, or during transportation of the ballots, or after the ballots arrive at a central location.

I still prefer hand-counted paper ballots, but only if they are counted in full public view at the polling place on Election Night. I simply will not defend the use of paper ballots if they are transported to another location before they are counted. I would much rather have lever machines counted at the polling place than any system, paper or paperless, counted elsewhere.

Lever machines are mechanical devices. The voter pulls a lever, which turns a gear, which adds one vote to the candidate's total, much like the odometer on a car. The lever makes a sound which verifies that the vote has been recorded.

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Richard Hayes Phillips has been an observer of election statistics for 46 years. He has a doctorate in geomorphology from the University of Oregon, also holds degrees in politics, geography and history, and is a former college professor. When not (more...)
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