Washblog

Duplicating Ballots on Touchscreens in SnoCo?

Per Noemie's request, I'm (prematurely) posting about something troubling from Snohomish County Elections. The Secretary of State's Office has authorized SnoCo to use their Sequoia touchscreens for the duplication of mail ballots.

We activists really don't know much more than that. Most of us have day jobs and have been concentrating on King Co. It'd be great if others could step up and help us resolve this.

The email thread to date is shown below. Plus some background information.

Duplication occurs when a mail ballot cannot be counted by the central count optical scanner. Reasons a mail ballot cannot be counted as-is include write-in candidates, use of pencil or wrong pen color, stray marks, damaged ballot, etc. (Citations for rules and procedures needed here.)

In King County, a team copies the votes from one ballot to a new blank ballot. The original ballot is kept. More, I don't know at this time. (I've asked for copies of the procedures.)

I currently believe that King County is duplicating about 10% of its mail ballots. Its an incredibly high number. There's a team of about 50 temp workers that do nothing but duplicate ballots.

Back to Snohomish County... At this point, all we have are questions:

 - We thought SnoCo retired their touchscreens. Some of you may recall Paul Lehto's lawsuit against SnoCo and Sequoia Voting Systems regarding the electronic voting systems and the problems experienced in 2004. SnoCo and Sequoia tried to settle out of court with Lehto. But that didn't fly. I don't know the current status.

 - A very big reason SnoCo retired their touchscreens and went to forced mail voting is the expense of adding a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to the machines they owned. In the email thread below, Paul Miller says the machines can be audited. Did SnoCo add printers? (Of course, we all know the VVPAT is a placebo. One that is impractical to audit. Cite Jill LaVine's testimony to the EAC and Voter Action's work in New Mexico here).

 - How would one re-enter ballots for all of SnoCo into an electronic voting system? Each unit must be pre-programmed with all the ballot styles of the covered precincts. Do they have multiple units set up, each dedicated for a subset of precincts? Or maybe they have "super" units that can handle all the precincts.

 - When does this new practice go into effect?

Okay, I need to return to work. The email thread follows. As you can see, I didn't actually get useful answers to my questions. It'd be great if other concerned citizens helped us rustle up some answers.

---

On Oct 3, 2006, at 3:53 PM, [raincity calling] wrote:

I recently learned from Paul Miller at the Secretary of State's office
that SnohomishCounty will be using Sequoia touch screen voting machines
for the purpose of duplicating absentee ballots that cannot be read by
the op-scans.  I assume they are the same machines used in the 2004
election.

Here is his email response to my inquiry regarding the use of touch
screens for provisional ballots and duplicating absentee ballots:

"Snohomish County will be using the duplicating process allowed in the
emergency WAC but as all the Sequoia counties are vote-by-mail, none of
them will be casting provisional ballots on the DRE.

No county in Washington will be using the provisional ballot on DRE this
fall and to our knowledge, Snohomish County is the only county using the
duplicating process."

-----Original Message-----

From: Jason Aaron Osgood [mailto:zappini@gmail.com]
Sent: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 4:24 PM
To: Miller, Paul
Cc: wa-fairelections@yahoogroups.com; WhatcomFairVoting
Subject: Re: [wa-fairelections] Snohomish County to use touch screens
for duplicating ballots

Hi Paul Miller-

Can you please direct us to the law, rule, whatever that permits the
duplication of mail ballots on a DRE?

Will this topic be addressed during Oct 11th's public hearing on the
proposed rule changes?

Thanks.

Cheers, Jason Osgood / Seattle WA

---

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Miller, Paul" <PMiller@secstate.wa.gov>
Date: October 3, 2006 5:35:52 PM PDT
To: "Jason Aaron Osgood" <zappini@gmail.com>
Cc: <wa-fairelections@yahoogroups.com>, "WhatcomFairVoting" <WhatcomFairVoting@yahoogroups.com>, "Diepenbrock, Carolyn" <Carolyn.Diepenbrock@co.snohomish.wa.us>
Subject: RE: [wa-fairelections] Snohomish County to use touch screens for duplicating ballots

Jason,

Below is the more complete and detailed response sent in response to Ms.
Walter's question.  As you can see, the duplication process on the DRE
provides for the same paper documentation and backup provided by the
current duplication process.

I have had the opportunity to review Snohomish's use of the DRE in
practice and believe their duplication procedures ensured the process
was at least as accurate if not more accurate than the current process
of manually duplicating votes from one paper ballot to another. They do
a thorough job of checking and cross-checking each ballot using two
people to enter every ballot.

No, I believe the WACs on Oct. 11th are dealing with changes in the
felony rules required by the recent Madison ruling.

- Paul

"As to the question of duplicating ballots on DREs, Snohomish county has
been approved to use DREs to duplicate ballots.  

As you are probably aware, some mail-in paper ballots are marked in a
way that the voting machine could not record the voter's vote correctly
but nevertheless the voter's intent is clear.   Current practice is to
duplicate those paper ballots to another paper ballot and log the
transaction so that the county can retrieve the original ballot for
review and comparision purposes.  

When a DRE is used to duplicate ballots, the paper tape record of the
vote cast will be logged so the county can retrieve the original ballot
for review and comparision purposes.

This procedure ensures that the county will always be able to retrieve
the original ballot and demonstrate the ballot was cast consistent with
the voter's intent."

---

Subject: FYI: Counting Mail Ballots on Touchscreens
Date: October 4, 2006

Hi Bob Ferguson, Everyone-

We just learned that Snohomish County WA is now allowed to count mail ballots using their touchscreen voting machines. Below is an exchange with Paul Miller (Sec of State's Office). We're trying to figure out how this absurdity is permitted. We'll continue to ask Paul Miller and others to cite laws, rules, or whatever until we get an answer.

My concern is that King Co will be next. This is exactly the kind of creeping incrementalism that concerns us election integrity activists so much.

During my observation of our central count last week, I was told 10% of mail ballots were being "duplicated". I'd estimate that during the peak, there were 40 people duplicating ballots. (I'll try to get actual numbers via open records requests.)

We activists had heard about this practice of duplicating ballots on touchscreens from California. (I think via Bev Harris.) It's unbelievable. And it's yet another reason to oppose forced mail voting. As we know from Jill LaVine's testimony to the Election Assistance Commission this last April, it is impractical to audit the paper trials. (Paul Miller was in the audience with me.) Similarly, Voter Action's work in New Mexico showed that the audit trial and the electronic memory don't necessarily match -- and there's no way to know.

Either forced mail voting or electronic voting is bad enough. I can't even believe we're talking about a combination of the two. We should be working to reduce the amount of duplication being done, not automating it.

Cheers, Jason Osgood / Seattle WA

Washington Citizens for Fair Elections
http://www.wafairelections.org

< Elway: I-933 Significantly Losing Ground | And to the republic for which it stands >
Display: Sort:
From: Jason Aaron Osgood <zappini@gmail.com>
Date: October 5, 2006 11:31:36 AM PDT
To: Paul Miller <PMiller@secstate.wa.gov>, Carolyn Diepenbrock <Carolyn.Diepenbrock@co.snohomish.wa.us>
Cc: wa-fairelections@yahoogroups.com, WhatcomFairVoting <WhatcomFairVoting@yahoogroups.com>, John Gideon <jgideon@votersunite.org>, Paul Lehto <paul@lehtopenfield.com>
Subject: Re: Snohomish County to use touch screens for duplicating ballots

Hi Paul Miller, Carolyn Diepenbrock-

Please cite the laws, rules, or whatever that permits the use of touchscreens for the duplication of mail ballots. I've been looking, without luck, and need it pointed out for me. Alternately, perhaps this is a matter that's under your discretion?

When will this practice go into effect?

How many mail ballots will be duplicated? (Projections based on prior elections?)

Do the Sequoia touchscreens owned by SnoCo now have printers for the voter verified paper audit trail? (Below is an email from Carolyn Diepnbrock from April 24, 2006 about the intended use of the touchscreens. I misremembered and thought the touchscreens had been retired.)

Will performance audits be performed on the touchscreens used for the duplication of mail ballots?

Cheers, Jason Osgood / Seattle WA

Washington Citizens for Fair Elections
http://www.wafairelections.org

---

-----Original Message-----
From: Diepenbrock, Carolyn
Sent: Friday, April 14, 2006 10:21 AM
To: [raincity calling]
Subject: Voting systems

Hello - I have been reviewing my e-mails and I don't believe I have responded to your question from March 10, 2006 and I apologize.  Snohomish County uses Sequoia Voting Systems electronic voting machines at polling places and optical scan ballots for absentee voters. effective with the Primary 2006 election Snohomish County will vote all by mail.  All voters will receive a ballot by mail and then can return it through the Post Office at drop the ballot at one our community drop-off locations.  There will be electronic voting machines available in the Auditor's Office which will provide a secure voting environment for disable voters.  In 2007 we will be expanding the locations of the electronic voting machines to additional accessible areas.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have additional questions.

Carolyn Diepenbrock, Election Manager
Snohomish County Auditor's Office
425-388-3625

by zappini on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 11:53:49 AM PST

* 1 5.00 1 *


From:   jgideon@votersunite.org
Subject: FYI: Counting Mail Ballots on Touchscreens
Date: October 5, 2006
To:   wa-fairelections@yahoogroups.com, WhatcomFairVoting@yahoogroups.com, election_integrity_and_reform@yahoogroups.com, etc.

I just got off the phone with my Kitsap County Elections Director. We use the same system as SnoCo, Sequoia. I was told that Kitsap had considered duplicating on the DRE but chose not to do it for a couple reasons. One, it would take more time than duplicating from paper to paper.

And two was surprising. When duplicating a ballot you actually duplicate. Duplicating is done when a voter marks their ballot in a way that the tabulator cannot read. If a voter over-votes, i.e. votes for two when the vote is actually only supposed to be for one, the staff actually duplicates that over-vote to the new paper ballot. The new ballot is then run through the machine and the over-vote is counted as an 'over-vote' as the voter wanted. A DRE will not accept an over-vote so when they duplicate from a paper ballot to the DRE they would have to leave that over-vote blank, or an under-vote. This changes the final statistics of the election because it conflates over and under votes.

John Gideon
Executive Director www.votersunite.org and
Member www.votetrustusa.org

"We know more today about how to build a machine to take pictures of rocks on Mars than we know about how to build a machine to safeguard the American right to vote." Rev. DeForest Soaries, the first Chairman of the Election Assistance Commission

VotersUnite! is a national non-partisan organization dedicated to fair and accurate elections. It focuses on distributing well-researched information to elections officials, elected officials, the media, and the public; as well as providing activists with information they need to work toward transparent elections in their communities.

by zappini on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 03:02:33 PM PST

* 2 5.00 1 *


Yes, it's certainly done.  But I dispute zappini's 10% figure.  I think it's probably much lower than that.

I just finished two days as a temp worker in the manual recount of the Pope/Ottinger/LaSalata District Court race.  Though I certainly didn't look at a large number of the 92,000 ballots that were recounted, I am certain that a very small percentage of the ballots I did examine were duplicated ones.  If it was 2% I'd be very surprised.

You can always tell when a ballot has been duplicated, even if you don't look at the front of the ballot to see the written statement by the duplicator.  They always display the voter's selections with a single horizontal stroke of a marker-pen, with no attempt to fill the oval.  Based on that, then, I can tell you that I saw very few such markings on the ballots I reviewed.

In fact, I was surprised at how extremely unambiguous were the markings on the ballots I looked at.  Granted, this was the next-to-last item on the back of the ballot, followed only by the King County levy for law enforcement's fingerprint system.  So thre were a whole lot of undervotes in the race ... in some precincts, there were more blank ballots than votes for any of the three candidates.  But I also saw very, very few overvotes -- no more than half a dozen over two days -- and about as many write-ins.  My group of three never found a single ballot that we needed to send to the Canvassing Board.

I gossiped a bit about these phenomena with fellow volunteers, not a few of whom were WashBlog readers/comments (dlaw, Cherisse, dinazina, and m3047 come to mind).  No one reported seeing more than a tiny number of incorrectly-cast ballots in the race we were examining.

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever -- Larry Andersen
Blogging at Peace Tree Farm

by N in Seattle on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 08:36:14 PM PST

* 3 5.00 2 *


Seems like as good a place to post my observations about spending two days working the manual recount of the Pope/Ottinger/LaSalata District Court race.

Saw N. and dlaw, but didn't recognize Cherisse or dinazina. Saw a few other people and/or faces which I recognized. Can't say it enough: if you can make the time, participating in the elections process is educational on both a procedural and social level. It's also a worthy civic contribution. (We have the November election coming up, I'm sure King County still needs pollworkers.)

This manual recount was automatically triggered simply because the race was so close. There were, as I recall, over 90,000 ballots to count. The whole process is a trip back to the 1920s, with a room full of clerks and people pushing carts with boxes around: when they say "manual recount", they ain't kidding! There were 50 processing teams, each consisting of three people: two counters and one recorder. All ballots were counted at least once. A some were counted twice. A few were counted three times. (I was just a counter, I don't know specifics of the error clearing process.) From my (limited) vantage point, it seemed like considerable care was taken to get an accurate count.

We're not allowed to take personal note-taking materials with us, and when you're counting hey you're counting and there's no time to take notes. But I can make a few anecdotal observations.

The first one is that the number of "no marks" was noted by a number of people. Since the official count is now out on http://www.metrokc.gov/elections/news/2006_10_05.asp you can do the math yourself and see that undervote + overvote + writein outpolled all of the candidates except Richard Pope. Will the people who voted for Ottinger vote for LaSalata in the general, or will they join the no-marks? Will a significant majority of the no-marks be swayed to mark in the general for LaSalata? Will some darkhorse writein candidate come out of nowhere and sweep the race? As Gibney might say: Hot damn won't thet be something? It's a curious, down-ticket race.

I recall seeing two write-ins: one was blank and the other was clearly marked "None".

The duplicated ballots appeared to be pretty easy to spot (they also were presumably accurately duplicated, given that I observed under and over votes on them). From the sample I saw, I don't think it approached 10%. I don't know where that number is published; I do concur with Zappini and others, there isn't enough visibility into this process.

Some things you only hear about when you work as or talk to the other clerks (some of whom participated in preparing the mail-in ballots or the duplicating process). One of those is foreign materials stuck to ballots. Voters: if you don't want your ballot duplicated, don't stick disgusting things to it.[1]

Another thing, voters: While humorous write-in candidates may bring some amusement to the clerks, they have utterly no effect on policy, and in fact the policy makers never see them. Writing a letter to the editor, or talking to your neighbors, or finding out who your PCO is (either Party) and giving them a piece of your mind will have much more effect.

[1] Another argument why mail-in balloting perhaps shouldn't be the preferred option: Safety of the clerks. There are disgusting things on a few ballots.[2] Wearing gloves isn't mandatory, but let's just say that not everyone who is wearing them is doing it to protect their manicure.

[2] And humorous (third-hand, anecdotally): fruit loops vs. raisin bran: voter intent?

by m3047 on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 10:12:48 AM PST

* 4 5.00 3 *


Finally got as close to an authoritative statement on the Inspector's List for mail-in ballots as I think I'm going to get from Garth (the guy who seemed to be in charge of the recount):


  • You can buy the voter list; this gives you the voter registration numbers.
  • They publish the list of voter registration numbers each day; you can match this up to the voter list.

At least that's the way it works now. I didn't have any opportunity for an extended conversation about whether it is always going to be this way or what might come next.

This is not the same in my opinion as the Inspector's List, which breaks out names by precinct.

Clearly it does present some logistical challenges for true grassroots activism (as well as for neighbors checking the List). These aren't insurmountable challenges, but considering how much trouble "we" go to to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can and that every vote is counted, you'd think that barriers wouldn't be erected which impair "our" ability to verify all of these good intentions.

by m3047 on Fri Oct 06, 2006 at 10:35:23 AM PST

* 5 5.00 3 *


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