Monday, November 5, 2007

Election Problems Continue in Cuyahoga County

With elections tomorrow, Cuyahoga County apparently continues to face problems that may cast questions of reliability upon the eventual results. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting today on problems encountered by the county in performing recounts; such issues raise additional issues into the reliability of the equipment being used.

According to the article, “Cuyahoga County is 0-for-2 in conducting successful recounts this year – an ominous sign heading into Tuesday's election.” While the recounts in question of small municipal elections, the inability in conducting successful recounts could be magnified when such recounts are required in countywide races.

The failure to conduct a successful recount is being attributed to an inability to match the paper records produced with by the electronic voting equipment with the official results as reported by the machines. Some of the paper ballots examined for recount purposes were unable to be read in order to determine which candidate the voter had selected; in this case, “[t]he problem did not affect the outcome of the primary but did highlight the potential for being unable to call closer races.”

Problems with the paper ballot have been an issue since such the electronic voting machines were first used in 2006. In conducting a study last year, it was determined that “nearly 10 percent of official ballots in the May 2006 primary were ‘destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together or otherwise compromised.’”

The machines in question, manufactured by Premier Election Solutions, are used in 47 Ohio counties. Still, many counties have been able to perform successful recounts, and have trained their poll workers how to properly fix any jams that may cause the paper ballot to become unreadable. Cuyahoga County has apparently not been able to do such, and have no guidance as to how to remedy unreadable ballots. Although it had been proposed that ballots be reprinted from memory cards from the touch-screen machines, this idea, presented by former Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, had been denied. Current Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has yet to address the issue. As the Plain Dealer states, “[i]n the meantime, Cuyahoga County elections leaders will have to hold their breath.”

This is far from Cuyahoga County’s first issue with electronic voting machines. In 2006, many election locations were unable to open due to an inability to operate their electronic voting machinery; some polling places were required to turn to paper ballots. A number of other issues also arose during the 2006 election regarding the use of the electronic voting equipment. Although these issues were well publicized and covered by the media, Cuyahoga County continues to have issues that may affect the election results and cause many voters’ choices to be improperly heard, or not heard at all. With an election being held tomorrow, it is unlikely that any issues will be resolved before this election.

While this article focuses on the problems in Cuyahoga County, it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that this issue and many others are still prevalent, in Ohio and the rest of the country. Whether it is the fact that many counties or states have not yet had to deal with such issues, or whether they are just not being as well publicized, the fact remains that these issues need to be remedied regarding electronic voting equipment in order to properly record votes and allow for reliable recounts when required. While the government requires the use of the equipment, states have apparently not yet found the proper machinery that will protect against voter fraud while representing the actual voice of the voters; while the state works out these “kinks” in the system, many voters may feel as if their votes are not being properly heard, and may become disenchanted with the voting process to the point that they may be discouraged from casting votes even if the issues are eventually resolved.

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