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EACs Disappointing Election "Glitch" -- We can't fix the voting machines, so let's blame the ballots.

By       Message Lani Massey Brown     Permalink
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There's a new glitch in the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). In answer to the EAC's concern about paper ballots, their Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) expanded its voting system guidelines to include a new class of standards: the paper ballots class. Hand counted paper ballots must be . . . technology enabled. (See Nancy Tobi's White House Agency Takes Aim at Ballots.)

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What's that mean? Simply this. We can't fix the voting machines . . . so let's tinker with the ballots. Now even states that flawlessly count their votes by hand must adopt ballots that are machine countable . . . that is if the machines could count.

Make no mistake. It's not bad ballots that flipped your votes in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009. It's the touchscreens. While ballot scanners and tabulation systems jumbled the tallies.

It wasn't even defective punch card ballots that transformed 2000 into a national meltdown. It was the inadequate election laws that invited political manipulation and interpretation instead of sending the 2000 election back to the people for an honest vote. And it was Florida's election law that failed again in 2006 by not sending Florida's congressional district-13 election with its cockamamie results back to the people for a revote. (Note: While Alan Boyle's bugs in the ballot points to bad ballot design causing the high undervotes in the district-13 election, the chronic ES&S touchscreen failures since that 2006 election now underscore calibration drift as the cause.)

Unfortunately, nine years after the dangling chads, the combined efforts of the EAC, the TGDC, and the Holt Bill (HR 811) will not prevent another 2000-level meltdown. Nor will their efforts prevent a single election machine voting error.

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I hope someone from the EAC, the TGDC or someone aware of more recent changes to HR 811 will comment that I'm wrong here and that their latest and greatest versions actually do include provisions for straightening out crooked elections.

But as of this writing, Holt still lacks substantive guidelines for identifying voting machine and election system errors that rise to the level of triggering automatic recounts and/or re-votes. Instead Holt defers to states, "The determination of the appropriate remedy with respect to the election shall be made in accordance with applicable State law, except that the electronic tally shall not be used as the exclusive basis for determining the official certified vote tally."

Perhaps the EAC has learned from the steady string of election failures and is poised to insert innovative recommendations into its Election Management Guidelines. However, according to the current EAC procedures, their diagnostic tests assure that all of the mechanical and electronic components of the device are operating correctly.

No they don't. These alarming glitches in EAC procedures actually facilitate election failure:

The most glaring error here is . . . testing the touchscreen without touching the touchscreen. The EAC diagnostic test recommends manually entering one vote for each candidate or issue. Then using the touchscreen's automatic testing procedure to automatically stress test/load test the machine, by automatically entering a number of ballots greater than the number of ballots expected on election day, usually 150 ballots.

Not only does testing the touchscreen without touching the touchscreen fail to detect calibration problems. But the time involve for this test doesn't even allow the machine to warm up, let alone heat up enough to trigger the known calibration drift problems.

Recommendations for testing ballot scanners are lax as well since testers are instructed to use their pre-marked test ballots to "accumulate a significant number of ballots (at least 25) on the ballot scanner." Twenty-five ballots?

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Imagine the election official's dismay when after scrupulously completing the EAC's guidelines, convinced he/she has done everything possible to run a clean election, then by late morning the machines heat up and start flipping votes.

As in Holt, the EAC does not offer guidelines on what to do when the machines fail. It does mention that state laws govern the circumstances that trigger a recount, including: candidate initiated, voter initiated, closeness of an election (results are within a specified vote margin requiring an automatic recount), and automatic (required by law regardless of vote margin). However there is no mention of machine errors or circumstances that could and should require a re-vote.

The Voluntary Voting System Guidelines to the EAC was developed by the Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) with technical support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology state officials in running elections fairly. Still, a couple of interesting observations. (NIST). This document is to be used by voting system manufacturers and voting system test labs, so there is no expectation for guidelines to test the equipment adequately.

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