Sunday, March 1, 2009

Paper Ballots? No thanks, Levers are better.

As a former Staten Islander and a lever voting system proponent, I have followed the Island's North Shore special City Council election last Tuesday with great interest. And when the Election Commission said they couldn't program the levers in time for the election (a last minute court order put a previously disqualified candidate back on the ballot), they would use paper ballots, I got really interested.

Some people think paper ballots are the most reliable form of voting. They forget that NY developed levers to prevent widespread election fraud occurring with paper ballots.

Tom Wrobleski, in his column Strictly Political, reported that earlier this week candidate Debi Rose told him:
"We went through the [2001] recount trying to make sure all our votes were counted. It wasn't a pleasant experience. We felt secure that this year the votes would be counted on the machine, that there wouldn't be these stacks of paper."
Wrobleski had a nice recap on the mess that paper absentee and affidavit voting caused in the 2001 race that then- and now-candidate Rose lost in 2001 by 170 votes. (Using NY's lever machines, the only ballots that ever need to be recounted are the paper absentee and affidavit ballots.)
Our recollection of the 2001 recount is that a good number of absentee and affidavit ballots got tossed because they weren't signed, or weren't dated, or weren't sealed properly in the proper envelope. We only wonder what the campaigns will be confronted with on Wednesday [the date for this special election recount], given the confusion that voters said greeted them when they appeared at the polling place.
Well, Debi Rose and her current opponent, Ken Mitchell, will go through that nightmare again. This time they go into the recount with Mitchell leading by estimates of 34 to 91 votes before the 395 absentee and affidavit votes have been counted. The Advance said that the Board of Elections attributed the fluctuating totals to errors made while votes were being tabulated by election workers.

So, how did paper balloting work out this week? We'll know more after the recount, but here are some preliminary anecdotes:


Also set to be re-examined on Wednesday are ballots that were "improperly" marked by voters on election night.

Voters were told to use a pen to fill in an oval on the ballot near the name of the candidates they wanted to vote for.

But some voters said they were given confusing information about how to fill in the ballot. Observers said that some voters circled their preferred candidate or placed an X next to the name.

Richman said that "if the voter's intent is clear, the board's standard is to count the ballot."

But deciding what constitutes a properly filled-in ballot could be a sticking point at next week's recount, with some observers believing that a protracted, Florida- or Minnesota-style legal dispute could ensue.

One possibly apocryphal story circulating in both the Mitchell and Rose camps has a North Shore voter filling in the oval for four different candidates on the ballot. But instead of voiding the ballot, it's said that the poll worker merely gave the four candidates indicated one vote each.

The Staten Island Advance story reported that many were "tickled to be a part of the novelty....

...Voters filled in the bubble next to the name of the candidate they were voting for and then folded the paper ballots twice before sticking it in a cardboard box with a slit cut across the top.

Some voters complained the text was too small. Other campaign staffers reported some mistakenly circled or put "X" marks over the bubble.

"We're back in the stone ages, huh?" said Ron Armitage after placing his vote. "I was surprised but I think it worked out all right."

The familiar Shoup lever machines have been used in every election since 1962, when John F. Kennedy was president. Some voters were so accustomed to pulling the lever that they felt a little unsure about how safe the paper-and-pen process was.

"I'm familiar with the machines and I know they already have a system in place," said Kenneth Archbold of New Brighton as he walked out of PS 31. "I feel weird throwing a paper in a box -- okay, where is it going now?"

Ken Archbold wasn't the only one concerned about paper ballots. Here's a comment on the election results from AnnieLee on 02/25/09 at 9:55AM:
I wouldn’t say that “THE 'CARD' IS GOING TO GET PULLED” but I do have some concerns regarding the way the voting ballots were handled. My understanding of the process of voting is that once you get to the polls and place your vote that it should a private matter. As I went up to the table to receive my paper ballot, I notice how everyone at the table was eating pizza, which explained the grease stains on the ballot. Once I marked my ballot, I was looking for a ballot box to place my private vote in and found that there wasn’t a box around but just an out stretched hand. While holding a slice a pizza in one hand the gentleman took my ballot, took a quick look at it and then folded it up. Later on that evening I found that and friend of my actually placed her vote not by a paper ballot but going into a voting both and pulling the lever.

Something just doesn’t seem right here."
Well, stay tuned for Wednesday's recount of more than 8500 paper ballots. Just think, if they'd delayed the election and used the lever machines, they'd only be counting a couple of hundred by hand.

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