Locals still uncrossing voting machines’ wires
Next month, voters will flock to the polls, and many of them will find new voting machines. As a result of the voting controversy in the 2000 presidential election, Congress passed the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that has ushered in electronic touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines to replace punch card and lever voting systems. Implementing the act, however, has not been smooth.
Wendy Noren, clerk for Boone County, Mo., has been less than pleased with the transition. She says equipment standards were hastily written, and local governments were forced to purchase machines before manufacturers could test them to meet the requirements for providing a voter-verified paper trail.
Boone County was required to have the new voting machines in place by the 2006 federal election, including procedures to allow persons with disabilities to vote privately and unassisted, and to have their ballots verified. “We didn’t get our shipment [of touch screen voting machines] until 24 days before the [August] election, and they were falling apart from day one,” Noren says. Also, the equipment that was supposed to provide a hard copy of the machines’ tallies failed to print for several units. The county has replaced the faulty equipment and is working with the vendor to fix the printing problem in time for the next election.
Noren says the federal government is only picking up about half of the initial costs for the new equipment, leaving her county with the balance plus ongoing costs for maintenance, storage and poll worker training. “The costs per election will likely double,” Noren says. Despite the problems, however, Noren says many voters in her county are pleased with the new machines.
Ion Sancho, elections supervisor for Leon County, Fla., satirically refers to HAVA as the “Help All Vendors Act,” adding that his state is the reason for the legislation. Sancho says that voting equipment should be 100 percent verifiable, easy to use and administer, cost efficient and geared to protect the public interest. However, he says the county’s current voting equipment does not meet those criteria. Also, Sancho says only the voting machine manufacturers and those who lobby for them benefit from the HAVA program, faulting Congress for a failure to practice due diligence. “The law was created with the best of motives, but with no research,” Sancho says.
Not everyone has had a bad experience with the new voting machines. Marilyn Jacobcik, director of the Lorain County, Ohio, Board of Elections, tested equipment from four different vendors in real elections, then settled on equipment that provided a voter-verified paper audit trail for the November 2005 election. “We have conducted two elections and believe that the equipment exceeded our expectations,” Jacobcik says.
The county had five recounts in different areas, and in each case, the electronic voting equipment proved to be accurate.
David Beirne, director of public affairs in Harris County, Texas, says the county had a fairly smooth transition as well, largely because it moved quickly, fully implementing electronic voting one week after HAVA was enacted. Beirne says that while Harris County only requires a post-election paper trail, different states and jurisdictions still are debating the benefits of a voter-verifiable paper trail, which is stalling implementations.
Currently, 27 states require voter-verified paper trails, but, according to Beirne, only about half have implementation plans. “[Satisfaction with HAVA] all comes down to the experience with implementation and the local jurisdiction’s relationship with their state,” Beirne says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.