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Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Parks, Ed.D.


Between May 2, 2006 and November 7, 2006, I observed the hand-counting of paper ballots in three elections in two New England states.  The purpose of these observations was to gather first-hand data concerning the feasibility, effectiveness and accuracy of the use of HCPB.  These elections were as follows: 

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(1)   Rockport, Massachusetts (MA), on May 2, 2006, Town Election

(2)   Hudson, MA, on May 8, 2006, Town Election

(3)   Acton, Maine (ME), on November 7, 2006, General Election  

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All three hand-countings of paper ballots were conducted smoothly and were finished in a timely manner.  This paper describes the various protocols used and presents recommendations for the use of hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) in the upcoming elections of 2008.  Absentee ballots, provisional ballots and chain of custody of the ballots are not dealt with in this paper, although they are also crucial elements of an HCPB system.[1]


Much has been written about the fraud and error associated with the use of electronic voting machines – both Direct Recording Electronic (DRE’S/touchscreens) and Optical Scan (op scans/opti scans).[2]  Because of this fraud and error, HCPB have been put forth as an alternative to electronic voting machines.[3]  The use of an HCPB system will ensure that each vote is counted as intended and as cast by the voter.  Although HCPB do not address the egregious suppression of the vote (mostly of people of color, elders and low income people), partnering a solution to the elimination of this suppression with the use of HCPB is the only way to have honest and transparent elections.


The jurisdictions that I observed were not selected randomly.  They were places that I could drive to comfortably from my home in Boston, MA.  Moreover, I was interested in observing an election in Acton, ME because the Town Clerk had told me that after the first hand-counting, the ballots would be hand-counted a second time.[4]  I received permission to observe the elections from each Secretary of State, or their assistants, and from each Town Clerk.  For full transparency, I introduced myself as an advocate of HCPB, who wanted to observe an HCPB election.  I was very well received and felt comfortable in all places.  All three Town Clerks were very generous with their time and expertise.


In each of the three elections observed, number two pencils were used by the voters to hand mark their paper ballots.  In each of the elections, the counters worked in teams of two.  In addition, the counters were told that it was the intent of the voter that was to be counted, and when in doubt, the counters called over the Town Clerk or Warden[5] to ask questions about specific ballots and how to count them.  Finally, in each of the elections, the counters were able to hand-count the paper ballots in a short time (see specifics below).


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I will first describe the HCPB election in Acton, ME on November 7, 2006 because this protocol used a procedure that would produce the most accurate count of the votes - namely, a second hand-count was done immediately after the first hand-count.   

The ballot box was a plain, wooden box with a slot into which voters put their ballots. There were six teams, of two counters each, doing the hand-counting.  The counters came in specifically to count; they had not worked at the polls earlier in the day.  Each team consisted of a Republican and a Democrat.  The teams first counted the ballots into batches of 50, and then these batches of 50 were counted again.  


The teams then hand-counted the votes cast in each contest for each batch of 50 ballots in the following manner:  One member of the team would read out loud the name marked off for each contest; the other member of the team marked the vote on a tally sheet that corresponded to the ballot.  A voter’s entire ballot was tallied for all of the contests before the counters went on to tally the next voter’s ballot.  The talliers counted each vote by making a hash mark (small, straight vertical line).[6]  After four vertical lines were made, a fifth line was made diagonally through the first four marks.  For each person running for office (and for each initiative), the tally sheet was marked off into five columns vertically and two rows horizontally, providing 10 rectangular spaces in each of which five hash marks could be written – a total of 50 hash marks - i.e., votes - per contest or initiative.  A dark horizontal line separated the names in each contest.  At the end of the counting of all of the races in a batch of 50 ballots, the counters totaled the hash marks for each race on the tally sheet and entered that number on the tally sheet in the “TOTAL VOTE” column.  There was a special sheet for write-ins.

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Sheila Parks, Ed.D., is a former college professor. She had a spiritual awakening many years ago and left her career to do peace and justice work full time. She is the founder of the grassroots group On Behalf of Planet Earth (found on FB). The (more...)

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