Monday, February 9, 2009

How Lever Machines Provide a Reliable Count

Here's a thoughtful excerpt from an article, In Defense of Lever Voting Machines, by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D. who wrote the book "Witness to a Crime: A Citizens' Audit of an American Election" about the Ohio voter machine issues. I have added formating and sub-headings to make reading easier. Use the links to read the full article.

[Link to read the full article]
I still prefer hand-counted paper ballots, but only if they are counted in full public view at the polling place on Election Night. I simply will not defend the use of paper ballots if they are transported to another location before they are counted. I would much rather have lever machines counted at the polling place than any system, paper or paperless, counted elsewhere.

Lever machines are mechanical devices. The voter pulls a lever, which turns a gear, which adds one vote to the candidate's total, much like the odometer on a car. The lever makes a sound which verifies that the vote has been recorded.

Oversight of lever machines
With lever machines, three oversight methods are always necessary to protect the integrity of the vote count. Election observers need to see:

(1) before the polls open, that the counts for all candidates and ballot propositions begin at zero, and that all the levers are functioning properly;

(2) throughout the day, that the total count matches the number of voter signatures in the book; and

(3) at the end of the day, that the machine counts are observed and recorded at the polling place, in full public view.

Honest elections officials will be doing these things anyway. It is our job, as vigilant citizens, to be sure that they do.

New York State, by law, does not allow post-election recounts. Rather, New York allows a "recanvass," that is, a comparison of the counts that were transcribed in full public view from the lever machines at each polling place on Election Night with the numbers tallied and aggregated at the county level, to be sure that all the vote totals were transcribed correctly. As explained by attorney Andi Novick:

"Since 1896, the Election Law has required contemporaneously created record evidence of the count or of fraud. A verified, completed count, publicly recorded and announced at each poll site on election night, before the aggregate of the total votes is known, is still mandated." It is "historically understood that once the ongoing public scrutiny of the poll site ended and the results of the election night count were known, the count was at greater risk of subsequent tampering."

For the same reason, in the case of hand-counted paper ballots, I distrust the idea of recounts at a central location utilizing an optical scanner, allegedly as a "check" on the original hand count at the polling place. If a discrepancy arises, which count carries the day? How do we know that ballot tampering did not occur after the ballots left the polling place and before they were run through the optical scanner?

In New York State, lever machines have a "full face ballot." Every candidate for every office, and every ballot proposition, is visible all at once. The offices are lined up in columns, and the political parties are lined up in rows, the order of which is determined by the order in which the parties' candidates finished in the preceding gubernatorial election. While this does help to perpetuate the dominance of the two major political parties, it standardizes the ballot layout all across the state. Any error in the ballot layout will be noticed, and the vote tallies will be assigned accordingly.

The levers are right next to the names of the candidates. The voter is unlikely to pull the wrong lever by mistake. Nor can votes be switched from one candidate to another, as this would be as difficult as jimmying a mechanical typewriter to type the wrong letter. Nor can votes be shifted by sending the voter to the wrong machine, because the ballot layout will be the same on every lever machine in the district. Even the blind can vote on lever machines, by feel, finding the right columns and rows by counting the number of levers.

Read the whole article here
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