Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Worst Case Scenario for a midterm election?

In several recent elections, the eyes of the country fell on one particular jurisdiction that came under the microscope and affected the entire nation. In 2000, it was Florida and hanging chads. In 2004 it was Ohio and long lines, and in 2006 it is shaping up to be Virginia and a single race that will determine which party controls the senate. Every article I have read today states that the race is going to come down to a recount.

Uh oh.

Virginia uses a plethora of different voting technologies. Just about every major vendor is represented. Most of votes in that state were cast on paperless DREs. There are no ballots to recount. A meaningful recount in Virginia is not possible.

The DRE vendors like to pretend that they can perform recounts. They take the vote totals on the machines and print corresponding ballots, and then count them by hand. Let me give an analogy to demonstrate how silly that is. It would be comical if vendors weren't actually doing it and convincing people that they were performing a recount.

Imagine if you had a word document on your computer, and the document stated some fact. You were not sure if the fact was true. So, to verify the fact, you print the word document, and then you read it out loud and say, "Ah, if that's what it says, then it must be true because I'm looking at a printout." What the vendors are doing is printing out the questionable results and then counting them. Of course they are going to match what was on the machine, but they do not provide an independent count. The so-called recounts of DREs are really just print and count, not RE-count. It is a waste of time.

Now, we hear that in Sarasota County, there were 18,000 undervotes in the race for the 13th congressional seat. The race is expected to be decided by fewer than 400 votes. If paper ballots had been used, the huge number of undervotes could be investigated. Without them, there is no recourse - no way to figure out why this happened. I have several theories. Perhaps that many people just did not care about that race. Unlikely in my opinion. Most likely is that the human interface, that is, candidate placement on the ballot caused many people to miss that race. The next possibility is that a software glitch caused votes in that race not to be counted. Finally, it is possible that someone actually did something to cause this. The problem with paperless voting is that we'll never know, and there will never be any way to find out.

It is unbelievable that the control of the US senate is coming down to a close race that cannot be recounted, and for which there are no physical ballots. The vendors may come out with their "emperor's clothes" recounts, but the public should understand that these are not really recounts, they are just print and count.