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"Map flipping" on webpage evokes "vote flipping" at polls

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An experience I had on the Web last Friday eerily evokes the "vote flipping" that has been reported recently from around the country.

("Vote flipping" is the process in which a voter touches one candidate's name on a voting machine but a checkmark lights up next to a different candidate's name instead.)

While doing research for a presentation, I was directed to this webpage:

http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/whos-ahead/key-states/map.html


The page includes a U.S. map with the States colored according to their presumed preference, either Obama or McCain. When you hover the cursor over a State, you see its name, the strength of its preference, and its total electoral-college votes.

When I tried out the map, I noticed I was getting readings for the wrong States. When I hovered the cursor over either Indiana or Ohio, for instance, I got a reading for Kentucky.

I shortly discovered that by hovering the cursor over the northern part of Indiana or Ohio, I'd get the proper State reading. But I'd get the same reading if I hovered slightly north and outside of the State. I even got a reading for Michigan when I hovered the cursor over the border, in Canada!

I'm sure I spend at least twenty seconds verifying all this on different parts of the screen.

I chuckled and then went about my research, visiting other webpages. When I returned a few minutes later, the map didn't exhibit any problems. And today, three days later, I find that the map is still operating flawlessly.

Though I'm a techie, I don't have the ability to program webpages. So I can't explain precisely why or how the problem occurred. But I can give a general explanation.

The webpage in question contains both a visible map and an invisible map. The visible map is the one that the viewer uses to navigate the States and to position the cursor. The invisible map is the progammable, "cursor-sensitive" one. It's supposed to coincide exactly with the visible map. But somehow the invisible map got programmatically shifted slightly north of the visible map.

Is there some computer code that's common to this webpage and to touch-screen voting machines? If so, uncovering the cause of the webpage malfunction may help shed light on the vote-flipping problem.

 

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Roy Lipscomb, Secretary, Director for Technology, Illinois Ballot Integrity Project

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