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Facts and FAQs about the Voting Issue
 
Note: We apologize for the appearance/inconsistent typeface of the text below. The shortcomings of this site's software are among the reasons we will shortly be transitioning to a new site platform. We appreciate your patience.

FACTS AND FAQ’S ABOUT THE VOTING ISSUE

 

The Coalition for Voting Integrity's mission is to educate people about the lack of security and accuracy in electronic machines and the need for voter-verified paper ballots.   In our interactions with many in the community, we have heard statements/questions from both citizens and government officials that indicate confusion and misinformation about this issue.  Some are the result of false information given to public by voting machine vendors and government officials, either through innocent error or willful deceit.  We hope to clear up some of the more glaring or confusing ones here:

 

“The government is making us give up our lever machines and say we have to get the electronic ones.”  The federal government passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, in the wake of the punch-card fiasco in Florida, mandating that all voting precincts must have at least one handicapped-accessible voting method by 2006 elections.  While there has been dispute about whether lever machines need to be replaced, the Election Assistance Commission has said that they must because they do not provide a permanent paper record and are not handicapped-accessible.

        However, HAVA does not say that electronic machines needed to be purchased, nor does it say that paper ballots cannot be used.   The electronic voting systems available today are of two basic types—the Direct Record Electronic (DRE) systems (touchscreen and pushbutton), and the paper-ballot optical scan (PBOS) systems-- which record and tabulate the votes very differently.  Our commissioners voted by 2-1 to purchase the DRE voting systems by Danaher, despite our efforts to educate them about the very serious faults associated with them.  They could have chosen the paper ballot optical scan system that is also on the State-certified list.  The paper ballot system provides an easy way to recount, is a check on the machine count, and is less expensive.

 

“What are the differences between the two systems, and why does the Coalition advocate one over the other?”  There are numerous differences, the most serious of which pertain to the security and integrity of our vote.  By understanding the basic set-up of each system, how votes are recorded and tabulated, one can appreciate that crucial element of vote integrity. The next question about the “paper” generated explains how they work.

 

I don’t want a paper trail—people will know how I voted.”

If we have paper ballots, it would take too long to count every vote.”  The terms “paper trail,”  “paper ballots,” “paper receipts,” are often easily misused or poorly defined.  A paper ballot is a piece of paper that a voter actually writes or indicates his/her vote on, either by filling in with pencil little circles next to candidates’ names, having a machine mark the ballot, or actually writing in the candidates’ names.  These are called “voter-verified paper ballots” or VVPB. They are filled out in manner similar to lottery tickets or standardized tests. These ballots can then be put into an optical scanner, which reads and counts the voter’s choices, then drops the actual ballot, in no particular order, into a locked box.  The scanner is used as a device to quickly count the votes.  Choices handwritten on ballots can be hand-counted, as opposed to having a machine read them.  In fact, five counties in Pennsylvania and most of Canada use paper ballots, count them by hand and have no problem!  With paper ballots, voters actually make their choice unequivocally known, the paper ballot itself is a hard record of the vote and can be used in a recount or audit should a discrepancy arise. 

      The paper receipt is a different term, and refers to a paper record generated by one type of DRE, which pushes out a piece of paper with the vote choices printed on it for the voter to check.  This type of “spit-out” paper receipt is illegal in Pennsylvania as the voter could walk away with the record of his vote, which violates the Election Code.

       Other manufacturers of DREs have created different ways to try to create a voter-verified paper trail.  Some have a Plexiglass viewing window, under which the voter sees a list of his choices printed out. This method also has not been approved for use in Pennsylvania because the votes are kept in sequential order and could reveal the identity of the voter, violating state law.  Our problem with any paper generated inside the machine is that there is no guarantee that what was printed on the paper actually reflects what the machine counted or what your actual intent was. It cannot be used as proof later in case of a discrepancy in an election. 

      So far, twenty-six states have passed legislation that would require voter-verified paper records in all elections.  Two bills, Senate Bill 977 and House Bill 2000, have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature.  Should these bill pass into law, the Danaher machine chosen for Bucks County (which does not have a voter-verified paper record) would need to be replaced, if a method to retrofit it could not be devised that would meet Pennsylvania election requirements.  Either proposition will be extremely expensive. The optical scan system is already inherently a voter-verified paper record system, and would not need any modification whatsoever to meet the future legislation.

     As you can see, the term “paper trail” is ambiguous.  Anything on paper that says how a vote has been cast could be a paper trail, though only a paper ballot that the voter has marked himself is truly a voter verified paper trail.

 

If we use paper ballots, everyone would want a recount or audit after every election.  It would be too time-consuming and expensive.”  This is not true. Every election wouldn’t be eligible for recounts.  Only elections with close results within certain percentage parameters would.  And in those cases, wouldn’t you feel it imperative to be able to have a recount? Random audits are required of all elections to provide some assurance that the results are accurate.   Direct Recording Machines like the Danaher can print out  a ballot image retention tape.  However, because the voters have never verified what is on the tape , the results do not necessarily reflect how the voters actually voted .  Any programmer can have a machine register one thing, record another and print out something else.

 

“It’s the 21st century—we should be using high-tech solutions for our voting systems!”  There are quite a few rejoinders to this argument.  First of all, what we need are reliable, easy, cost-effective ways to record and count our votes.  This is not a complicated thing, and to make it unnecessarily complex invites a host of problems.  We have reams of information available about the insecurity, costs, difficulty of set-up and maintenance and use of the direct electronic recording machines, so we won’t expound on those here. High tech and complicated is not necessary or desirable for a voting system. Eventually, the problems might be surmounted, but that day is nowhere near for these new systems.  It’d be a big mistake to purchase a DRE voting system now, since it will be outmoded or broken down in a couple of years and require expensive updates or replacement. This is evident, examining the DRE systems current, horrible history of huge failures in municipalities across the country.  Elections have been disasters, with votes lost or manipulated.  Why can’t we learn from the failures experienced by others already and avoid our own costly problems?

     Optical scan systems are not without major faults, either—they are also electronic and have been hacked into and votes changed.  However, the paper ballots are there as a check on the machine count and vice-versa. In terms of reliability, they employ a relatively simple, tried-and-true technology that has been used for decades.  They are relatively inexpensive, with no huge learning curves for poll workers, voters, and maintenance people.

 

“What do you mean by transparency in an election, and why is that important?”  All stages of the voting process should be accessible for inspection by the public. This is a means of guaranteeing to the best of our ability that the election results are as honest as possible.  In both optical scan and touchscreen systems, the vote tallies counted in the machine are spit out as information for the election officials to record.  As citizens, we are entitled to witness this “vote counting”.  However, there are huge differences in the reliability of those votes.  Optical scans count actual ballots filled out by voters, and the results can be backed up by those ballots.  In touchscreen systems, the vote tally is a result of whatever the machine decided, which may or may not be what the voter intended.  The software of those machines is held by the privately-owned voting machine companies and is secret:  we have no way of accessing what it is actually doing or how secure it is.  So this part of the process is NOT transparent at all!

 

“The commissioners already made their decision to purchase the DRE system.  Isn’t it too late to do anything about this?”  Our right to have our vote counted accurately and honestly is more important than money.  If officials have chosen wrongly, and we need to spend more money to get a system that accurately counts the vote, we need to do whatever is necessary.

      If we let this decision stand, how will voters ever be able to get their vote counted, especially if they want to elect candidates who will make wise, fiscally prudent decisions?  We cannot have the power of our vote taken away, for any reason, or else we give up the foundation of our democracy.

 

“The Coalition for Voting Integrity must have some financial interest in one voting system over another.”  This is patently false.  We are a group of average citizens who have been very alarmed at the developments in our election process in recent years.  We have made it our mission to find out all the facts we can, at the federal, state and county levels.  Educating the public and our government officials about what is out there, and to head off misinformation and/or outright lies is our purpose.  There are others who may have ulterior motives, financial and otherwise, to advocate for the DRE systems. 

       In our view, this is a no-brainer.  Our only goal is to advocate for the BEST voting system that insures the accuracy and integrity of our vote.  We strongly feel that if the integrity of our vote is compromised, democracy is doomed.  The vote IS the cornerstone of democracy.

       We invite you to visit our websites www.coalitionforvotingintegrity.org or www.saveourvote.com for information about all aspects of this issue: current news, both local and national, how you can get involved to make a difference, details about our lawsuit and other efforts to save our vote, plus much more.