Sunday, September 19, 2010

New York Primary Election Day: Op-Scan Round-up

Tuesday was primary election day in New York and the debut of optical scan voting machines in all New York counties. Reports from voters around the state were fairly consistent with my own experience in Poughkeepsie.

Although there were only about 4 people in line it took me about 10 minutes to get my ballot. One minute to fill it out - not as easy to stay inside those ovals as when seated at a desk with a pencil in the 10th grade, but I had only two choices to indicate. The markers were micron felt-tip and already the point was wearing down although I'm sure there had been no more than 15 voters there so far. A report from an ETC friend in Suffolk County indicated that although she was the 39th voter in her district, the pen was almost out of ink.

At my polling place only one of the two machines was working. I saw reams of machine tapes being pulled out and there was also some dispute as to whether each machine was dedicated exclusively to one of the two election districts accommodated by this polling place. When I inserted my ballot into the working op-scan I received an over-vote notice and chose to have the ballot returned rather then continuing since I knew I had not over-voted. I inserted the ballot again only to received a "one or more ambiguous marks" on the ballot notice and indeed there were very faint and very tiny smudges either from the privacy sleeve or the scanner itself. Voters in New York city apparently had the same problem, the result of the use of the felt-tip markers which were reported to be those recommended by the voting machine manufacturers.

In Poughkeepsie I stood in line again for a new ballot and carefully filled in those minute ovals, although now the pen had a felt tail dragging behind. After 2 more attempts this new ballot with no evident "ambiguous" marks was again being rejected on the grounds of those invisible ambiguities. Throughout the state there were reports of machines rejecting ballots. In the time I was at my polling place at least one person had to feed his ballot at least twice before it registered. Finally the attendant at my machine suggested I turned the ballot over with the blank side up and, ta-dah, my vote was "cast" indicating I was the 22nd voter of the day.

I know the scanners have the capability to read two sides but whether that feature was enabled today? Who knows? But then again, who knows anyway?

With the high percentage of rejected ballots, I was concerned that the spoiled ballots were not being as carefully tracked as they should have been. Again, during the 25 minutes I was at my relatively quiet polling place another voter (an experienced poll worker) over-voted and had to stand in line for a new ballot. I later saw her hand in her spoilt ballot only after her second ballot had been cast. At one point in one election district in Syracuse there were 14 ballots spoiled for 20 which had been cast.