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Election Forum: Dumb scanners

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Re: suggested proposals for federal
Election integrity legislation-- (dumb scanners)

A scanner that can identify areas where there is supposed to be a
circle and determine whether these areas are colored in is not, I
would think, a dumb scanner. It looks for specific areas inside a
specific rectangle and then has sufficient pattern recognition
software to detect when a circle is colored in even if the voter
hasn't colored every pixel's area or if there is some bleed over into
the area external to the circle.

Even if the scanner does not know what a colored circle means all
that says is that the job of associating colored circles with
candidates or issues must be done in another piece of hardware. There
will always be a requirement to program the different ballot styles
for every election. It is where this happens that there is high
vulnerability to trojan horses and back doors.

HCPB are the solution, it seems to me.

Jerry Lobdill, an election integrity researcher in
Tarrant County, TX.

Bruce O'Dell replies:
I agree with Jerry.

The obvious question is: exactly what "problem" demands we apply optical scan technology to the vote tabulation process?

Why should vote tabulation be done by machine and in secret, rather than by people and in public? How is a "dumb" scanning program better suited to interpret voter intent, rather than relying on the collective judgment of multiple, independent human observers representing all stakeholders in the election? The framers of the US Consitution enshrined this principle in the "separation of powers" doctrine; the only way to permanently prevent
abuse of power is to share it among multiple parties, each one with the ability and motivation to check the excesses of the others.

How is designing a ballot to accommodate the limitations of "dumb" optical scanning technology better than designing a ballot for ease of use by actual voters, to facilitate accurate recording of their intent, and fostering speed and accuracy of hand tabulation?

How is a technology that must always be double-checked by people better than simply relying on people in the first place? We can debate the protocol and extent of hand-count validation of optical scan technology, but certainly not its necessity. The only way we really know what is running in a computer is to present the inputs, observe the outputs, and verify that the two correspond to specifications. When it comes to voting, the verification of the accuracy of the scanning software can only be done after the fact, and only by independently hand-counting a sample of paper
ballots. Otherwise, you're simply using one set of untrustworthy software to verify another.

But since people must always verify the accuracy of optical scan
tabulation, I ask again: what value is optical scan technology adding to the overall vote tabulation end-to-end process? What civic benefit derives from removing citizens from their central role in overseeing the democratic process?

I believe it is highly misguided to continue to promote an automated
solution to a problem better solved by the absence of technology.
Therefore I regard promotion of vote count automation as a violation of my professional code of ethics.

I suggest Googling the phrase "disputed Canadian election" to see just how non-controversial hand-counted paper ballots in a modern democracy can be, and then a visit to to gain some practical insights into how best to remove machines from any role in counting votes - rather than in persisting in a misguided attempt to redeem them.

-Bruce O'Dell
Bruce O'Dell is a self-employed information technology consultant with more than twenty five years experience who applies his broad technical expertise to his work as an election integrity activist. He lives just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, and shares a love of good books with his wife - and her beautiful garden, with their talkative cat.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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