Peanut Butter Knife

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Optical Scan Voting in Summit County

This morning I had my first experience with Summit County's new ES&S voting system. Unlike many other Ohio counties that have gone with Diebold's controversial touch screen machines, Summit County opted for an optical scan system. Though not the lightning rod that Diebold is, ES&S is not without its own controversies. The fact that Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is a part owner of ES&S is certainly not a comforting thought either. If I were heading up a company that made voting machines, I'd probably want to distance myself from politicians of any stripe and make integrity a top selling point for my company. Then again, maybe idealistic notions like that is why I'm a lowly cubicle jockey and not in charge of some company.

I was running a bit late this morning and contemplated voting in the evening in case there was a long line due to confusion with the new machines, but election day is always very exciting for me and I decided I couldn't wait. If there was a long line, I could always leave and come back later. Fortunately, there was no line at all. In my precinct, I was the 15th voter at 7:30AM. The room looked kind of depressing and empty. There were no privacy curtains over the voting booths and since the entire ballot was on one piece of paper, the only thing in the booth was a pen. The ballots were torn off of a big book. It looked like more Dem ballots than GOP ballots had been handed out so far today. Not so surprising considering where I live, but encouraging nonetheless especially with a heated Republican primary battle for governor. A late 30s looking woman remarked to one of the poll workers who seemed to know her that she was "voting Democrat this year", anecdotal evidence that the tide may be shifting!

When I got to the booth, I was surprised by how minimalist the entire process is. If you're not familiar with the optical scan voting method, it is exactly like the scan-tron tests that you took in school. Each candidate is listed on a sheet of paper with an oval next to their name and you fill it in with the black ink pen provided (presumably these new machines aren't so picky about having a No. 2 pencil). The entire ballot was printed on 1 1/2 sides of an oversized sheet of paper. No book to flip through or card to slide in, it was very surreal. It will be very interesting to see how this works in November with all the constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot. I imagine they'll have to go to 2 pages. I don't live in the Akron school district, so I didn't get to see how they printed the levy.

After filling in my ovals, I was instructed to step over to the corner where a big grey box that looks a little like a copier was sitting. There a poll worker helps you slide your ballot into the machine and presumably if you made any mistakes, the machine will spit the ballot back out. Then you're done.
Remarkably simple, this process. My primary (no pun intended) concerns going into election day were that 1) there would be no paper trail to facilitate a manual recount if one was warranted and that 2) many people not familiar with optical scan systems would not fill in the ovals correctly and thus, not have their ballots counted. My first concern was answered because the ballot is a piece of paper and it gets fed into the machine. In fact, manual recounts might be even easier with this system since the candidates name is right on the ballot, as opposed to the punch card system which uses a number to represent different candidates. The second concern was only partially answered since the machine reads the ballot on site and will tell the voter if they made any mistakes. But I'm left wondering if it would be able to detect a mark that was too small or insufficient since it may just assume that the voter skipped that race altogether?

Overall, though it still seems a little odd to me, I am very comfortable with this system, if it is implemented correctly and the software works. The technology, in theory, should be sound. I've taken scan tests since I was in elementary school in the early/mid 80s and don't remember ever having a problem with the test reader messing up the scoring of a test. However, this being politics there's always someone trying to cut corners and hide from accountability. Psychobilly Democrat has been chronicling many of the issues that are being raised with this new system here in Ohio and I'll be interested in hearing their take post-election. Will Summit County have the same issues that other ES&S clients have had? Once we lose faith in our elections, we've pretty much lost.

Sorry for the poor quality of photos in this post. My cell phone is not the best camera in the world.


  • At 2:48 PM, Blogger Jill said…

    What a great entry! I love the pics! I sound like I'm comment spam! But I'm not! :)

  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger 54cermak said…

    Thanks Jill, that means alot coming from you!

    Reading the reports about voting today, I have to say this is one day I'm actually glad I don't live in Cuyahoga County anymore.

  • At 3:33 PM, Blogger redhorse said…

    excellent post; the photos are great.

  • At 3:50 PM, Anonymous human said…

    What happened in Cuyahoga County?


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