Punch cards vs. scanners

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I don't know about your states, but in mine, at least in my county (Josephine County, Oregon), we have this wonderful method of voting. It's called vote by mail (VBM). Supposed to get more people to vote, because they can vote in the privacy of their own homes, not have to drive the two or three miles to their voting places, and "have time to research the issues at their leisure, instead of having to do this while sitting in the voting booth.

Irrespective of the fact that, if a person can't be bothered with driving to the polls, they probably won't be bothered with researching the candidates and issues. Irrespective of the fact that a person can easily do the research at their leisure, and take a list of how they're going to vote with them when they go to the polls, there are several serious issues which make VBM an open invitation to fraud:

Our county clerk gets 5000 blank ballots to play with for a couple or three weeks, "in case there are a bunch of late registrations". This in a county of 75000! Who can say what happens with these ballots?

Lots of people (at least 4000 in this election, statewide) vote more than once, since the voting registrations aren't cleaned up that often, and ballots are forwarded to peoples' new addresses.

We mark our ballots in number two pencil--the only thing the sanners can read. This leads to some other potential problems:

The county clerk and her helpers have to "fill in" the little ovals which aren't completely filled in by the voters, in order to make the machine happy. They also have to erase any "smudges" on the ballots, so as to not trick the machines. Also, if someone has erased his vote, to change to another candidate/issue, the clerk and her gang place a little white sticker over the erased oval, again to not trick the machine. So here we have all these people in this little office, erasing like mad, writing in number two pencil like mad, and sticking these little "white out" stickers all over the place. Doesn't take a genius to see the implicaion here.

In addition, each and every ballot has to have its signature verified after all the ballots are in. Who can say that they are really the signatures of the voters who allegedly signed them? The clerk and her helpers aren't exactly hand writing experts.

Washington State reports that their recount of their punch card ballots indicated that the punch card was more accurate than the scanned ballots. On the order of a tenth of a percent or less, if memory serves.

This is for your information only, but think about it when your state asks you to approve VBM.


-- jumpoffjoe (jumpoff@echoweb.net), December 09, 2000


Maybe time to go to a parliamentary form of government.

-- JLS in NW AZ (stalkingbull007@AOL.com), December 10, 2000.

If anything this election has made people aware of the inadequacies of balloting systems across the country. People just havent fully realized the shear numbers of votes that have to be counted and of the potential for abuse especially in heavily populated areas. I saw a system shown on TV, that has been used on small scale, allowing use of a computer screen/keyboard in a voting booth. No way to vote for multiple candidates for same office, no chads, or fill in the boxes with a number 2 pencil. No confusion if a voter doesnt want to vote for any candidate for a particular office. If expanded to allow voting by internet, it could even do away with absentee ballots and allow instantaneous voting from citizens travelling around the world. It like any vote system would need safeguards. However it could instataneously tally votes. One would have to prove tampering with the system itself to truly challenge any outcome. There would be nothing to handcount or make decisions about by partisan vote counters.

Also it would do away with spurious arguments of cost that has eliminated, in many states, the ability to write in the name of a person for office that isnt officially on the ballot. Although the Supreme Court disagrees, I think this is an important right that should be preserved.

-- Hermit John (hermit@hilltop_homestead.zzn.com), December 10, 2000.

Hermit, there were experiments along those lines in California and I believe also in Arizona. The Calif group decided to focus on the computer in the polling place only. One of there concerns was voiced by one of the members: "Oh boy, my hacker buddies can't WAIT for internet voting." (I paraphrased that)

The computer in the polling place has some potential, but they said there are problems with it too. Sorry, I don't remember what they were. Anyone else read about this?

Of course, we Oregonians wouldn't be able to avail ourselves of the computer in the polling place. We no longer HAVE any polling places....


-- jumpoffjoe (jumpoff@echoweb.net), December 10, 2000.

Hello from the land of the voter impaired FLORIDA. If you think for one second that punch cards are better than scanners forget it. You havent turned on your tv in the last month. Chads hanging chads dimples pregnat dimples all fallout from this election.Any system has to be better than ours.I hope after this thing gets settled the fla. legislature will fix things. You can bet the farm i will be making phone calls and writing letters to get things fixed. So either be thankfull for what you have or fix it. PS the democarts have a new name for voting ROCKETSCIENCE. Respectfully yours from chadville.

-- hk john (ghubbar@bellsouth.net.), December 10, 2000.

The system in use in Leon County, Florida (where Tallahassee is) uses optical scanners, but at the voting places. After a voter is finished voting, the ballot is submitted to a computer check. If there are errors, such as duplicate votes, it will be rejected for correction. They had an extremely small number of undervotes. However, for some of the larger counties to implement this system it would cost each up to $5,000,000.

I think the flaw in any system is getting voters to simply follow directions. On the punch card machines used in South Florida, instructions were clearly shown on the voting machines which should have avoided at least hanging chaps. Punch card voting has the benefit of being relatively cheap.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), December 11, 2000.

A few words about the Great Punch Card System. My experience with computers goes back to the IBM 360 series that used punch cards as input 30 years ago. I also had a nice long talk with an election official here in Ohio where punch card voting machines are widely used. Yes Ken, they are relatively cheap. So here's the price you pay for cheap.

1) The punch card ballots, prior to use, are supposed to be stored in a climate controlled area. Like a dank musty store room in a court house basement, for instance. Since the ballots are paper, they will absorb moisture from the air or dry out. If the ballot is too moist, the chad may not completely separate when hit with a stylus. If too dry and the ballot shrinks, the chads will start to separate from the hole WHETHER THEY ARE PUNCHED OR NOT.

2) Okay, let's vote. If the "votomatic" machine had not been cleaned or emptied on a regular basis, punch chads will accumulate in the chad tray and act like a spring to bounce the stylus up and prevent a clean punch. You can duplicate this action by punching many sheets of paper in a 3-hole punch without emptying the tray. At what point is it difficult or impossible to punch through the paper?

3) You're done voting, secure in the knowledge that you didn't make any mistakes and your ballot is clean and chad free. Now the fun begins. The ballots are bundled and placed in locked containers to go to the location containing the vote tabulation equipment. Depends on the county where these machines are.

4) The vote counting machines have been wheeled out of storage where they've been sitting for a year, all greased and oiled and perfectly maintained. Yea, right. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's running, don't maintain it.

5) The ballots are unbundled from the locked cases, and guess what's in the bottom of the cases? Little rectangular pieces of paper. Now the person loading up the vote counting machines "fans" the ballots to make sure they're not stuck together and to remove static electricity. And guess what's all around the feet of the person loading up the counting machines?

6) The ballots got through the vote counters. These are electro- mechanical machines, kind of like mail sorting equipment. And the action of the ballots going through the machines puts what on the floor around the machines?

Ken. Throughout the U.S. of A. where punch card ballots are used, a rejection rate of 1% to 2% is typical. The rejection rate here in Ohio was somewhere between 1.2% and 1.4% The State of Ohio is not required to tally or keep records of the total number of rejects in its 88 counties. I had to contact election officials in several counties individually. I don't know about your state, but there are many people here in Ohio who have suddenly realized they've been had. The voter doesn't have to make a mistake. And if the results are not contested, requiring a recount, you never know what happened to your vote. THAT IS THE PRICE OF CHEAP!


-- Craig Miller (CMiller@ssd.com), December 11, 2000.

JOJ, think your hacker buddies are missing a bet. If they are that skilled, playing with bank or brokerage accounts would be a more rewarding occupation.

I'd as soon take my chances with hackers as with partisan Democrat or Republican vote counters. I'm sure many third party or write-in votes disappear. As a Soviet communist once said, "Its not those that vote that make a difference, its those who count the votes."

Even with internet voting, would have to have some kind of access available for those without computer/internet/knowlege of such. Best bet would be regular voter booths setup with computer setup inside that only required picking candidates and not getting online, etc.

I really dont like this Oregon 100% mail in ballots. Really opens things up for abuse as counters have long period of time while counting to tamper. Starting to see all kinds of shinanigans with absentee ballots across the country as they become more promoted and easily available. Here in AR we didnt even need an excuse to get absentee ballot this year. Didnt matter though as Ark Supreme Court threw all petition generated ballot issues off ballot for trivial reasons. Only ballot issues that were counted were those that originated with the legislature.

-- Hermit John (hermit@hilltop_homestead.zzn.com), December 11, 2000.

Is the voter entitled to a 'fair' or a 'perfect' voting system?

One point about different standards in each county. It's about like a team of referees at a football game. Each team probably applies the rules differently (as do umpires in baseball). As long as they are consistent, neither team suffers.

Old saying: You can work for a son-of-a-bitch, as long as they are a consistent son-of-a-bitch. It is the one's which switch back and forth which give you ulsers as you never know what to expect.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), December 11, 2000.

Article in today's paper: Bad machines, human error, fraud not so ususual. Selected paragraphs to give the gist of it:

New York City voters use metal lever-action machines so old they are no longer made, each with 27,000 parts (an automobile has 5,000). Similar machines in Louisiana are vulnerble to rigging with pliers, a screwdriver, a cigarette lighter and a Q-Tip.

In Texas "voter whores" do favors for people in return for their absentee ballots. Sometimes the canvasers or consultants, as they prefer to be called, simply buy the ballots. (Going price is $20.) Failing all else, they steal them from mailboxes.

Alaska has 38,209 more registered voters than voting-age people. This is common in most states where voter registerations are not checked and purged on a regular basis. Some states have over 20% the voters registered than should not be.

In Oregon a preliminary survey indicates more than 36,000 of the state's 1.5 million voters may have mailed in ballots this year which were signed by someone else.

Some students in Wisconsin say they voted as many as four times.

While the National Institute of Standards and Technology said 12 years ago punch card ballots should be junked, they are still used by more than 500 counties.

If the problem were out-and-out fraud, many would recognize it as an object so familiar on the political landscape as to be a running joke. The late Earl Long used to say he wanted to be buried in Louisianna so he could stay politically active. (And we all know about the dead voting in Chicago.)

Voting jurisdictions across the country use five varieties of lever- operated machines, six kinds of punch cards, ten sorts of optical scanning systems and six types of touch-screen computers.

Every system has its weaknesses. In 1998, the most recent year with records available, New York City reported trouble calls on 474 of the 6,221 metal lever-action machines it deployed... Some votes got tired of waiting on repairs and simply left.

Punch card systems deliver votes at only seven cents a ballot.

Optical scanners have their own special problems. They require precisely printed ballots and they cannot count ballots where voters mark them with Xs, circles or check marks instead of filling in ovals, boxes or arrows. When the scanners fail to count those ballots, election workers in some states may create duplicate ballots or enhance the originals with a small graphite stamp to clarify voter intents.

During the five years since the beginning of Indiana's motor-voter program, the number of new registrations has increased by one million. Tens of thousands, however, are the names of people who have registered more than once. Others no longer live in Indiana. Still others are in prison - or dead.

This is the first presidential election in which all Oregon votes were cast by mail. The ease of send-in voting gave the state an 80% turnout - among the highest in the nation. However, there is concern about possible intimidation from family or friends when voters mark their ballots at home. But a bigger worry is forged signitures. (And I would expect ballot buying.)

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), December 12, 2000.

Hi Ken. Could you please provide the newspaper name, link, wire service or ??? Thanks. I would be interested in reading the rest of the details. Amazing how we get anyone elected at all....

-- sheepish (rborgo@gte.net), December 12, 2000.

It was in the December 12, 2000 issue of The Tennessean (www.tennessean.com). No writer cited. Just says it is from the Los (Smog) Angeles Times. If you can't find it e-mail me an address and I'll make and send you a copy next time I go into town.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), December 12, 2000.

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