Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reach out and touch someone

Thanks to Tito at The Core 4 for the link to this creepy bit of news from the Gazette-Mail of Charleston, West Virginia:
At least three early voters in Jackson County had a hard time voting for candidates they want to win.

Virginia Matheney and Calvin Thomas said touch-screen machines in the county clerk's office in Ripley kept switching their votes from Democratic to Republican candidates.

"When I touched the screen for Barack Obama, the check mark moved from his box to the box indicating a vote for John McCain," said Matheney, who lives in Kenna.
It affected not only her vote for Obama, but for two seats on the state's Supreme Court; the machine canceled her second vote twice.

Thomas, for his part, said that for all three top offices - president, governor, and state senator - the machine moved his vote from the Democrat to the Republican. He said his daughter reported a similar experience.

Ultimately, all three were able to cast their votes the way they wanted, but Thomas, in addition to wondering why he wasn't warned of the potential problem, worried that other people might have had that happen and not noticed, as did Matheney.

Long-time readers are surely aware that I have repeatedly pointed out both proven and potential problems with electronic - touchscreen - voting machines and have called for an end to their use. In fact, I've had something like 40 posts on the subject, some of which are here.

But even beyond the very real risks of hacking and stealing of votes which they present, even beyond the demonstrated technological glitches which officials admit happen (In this case, they said the screens could have gone out of calibration when the machines were moved out of storage. Didn't anyone check before they were put to use?), probably the single most galling part of the whole business is the insistence by smirking election officials that all the problems are actually the voters' fault.

Matheney was told she was touching the screen too hard. Thomas was told to "Push it again." And Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright
blamed the problem on voters.

"People make mistakes more than the machines," he said, "but I went in yesterday and recalibrated the machines. We are doing everything we can not to disenfranchise anybody."
All right, two things should be made very clear here:

1. The machines are supposed to not make such mistakes. Waybright is admitting that they do. Deputy Secretary of State Sarah Bailey defended the process, saying "most" voting machines in "most" counties work properly. Not good enough, Deputy Secretary, not good enough at all.

2. A technology that by Waybright's own assertion leads to more mistakes by voters is a crappy technology that should be trashed.

And a third needs to be mentioned:

3. I'm really not much of one for conspiracy theories, I'm really not. But I can't help but wonder: Why does it seem that whenever we hear about a problem like this, it is the GOPpers who would benefit by it? Where are the stories of voting machines switching votes from Republicans to Democrats? Given a random distribution of machines and errors, it should happen about an equal number of times.

Shouldn't it?

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