Re: Early voting in San Diego county, my experience

From: Douglas W. Jones <jones_at_cs_dot_uiowa_dot_edu>
Date: Sun Oct 31 2004 - 10:57:09 CST

On Oct 30, 2004, at 10:17 PM, Ed Kennedy wrote:

> We're using optical scan ballots this time where you fill in flattened
> oval with an ink pen.  the ballot was about 8.5"x14" and on heavy card
> stock.  I noticed that there were a row of short lines on each side
> about every 3/8".  I assume these are for orienting the scanner.

See Figure 4 in my tutorial on counting mark-sense ballots:

   http://www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/optical/

In sum, you are right about the purpose of those marks.

>   While I could read the ballot font, it was an effort.  I found
> filling out the ovals to be demanding as I wanted to fill it in
> completely but not go substantially beyond the edges.  As the oval was
> quite small (1/8-3/16"?) it was a little difficult.  Hopefully these
> scanners have a little tolerance built in.

If they're calibrated with any degree of competence, they have lots
of tolerance built in. See the results of my testing of the absentee
ballot scanners in Miami Dade County for example, in Section 8 (pages
15 and 16) of:

   http://www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/voting/miamitest.pdf

In sum, carefully filling in the entire oval is recommended, but for
a properly calibrated scanner, a single dark pencil stroke across the
oval will be sufficient; and an X or a checkmark in the oval is even
darker than a single stroke. Neither the instructions nor election
workers should ever recommend such marks, since getting uniform dark
markings is nice, but I always test scanners using them and most
vendors deliberately set their scanners to accept them. (The
exceptions I've seen have been smaller vendors who had yet to gain
much experience in the subject).

> I asked the poll worker if I could run my ballot through a scanner to
> see if it registered the way I marked it.  After being referred to
> another person, I learned that there weren't any scanners set up. 
> After a while I realized that as I was actually voting absentee that
> they wasn't unreasonable.

This is how we do early voting in Iowa City also. The fact that you
marked your ballot with a marking pen strongly reduces the likelihood
that your ballot will smudge -- A folded ballot marked with pencil
can smudge from one marked spot to the face of the ballot that's
folded against that pencil mark, and this can create an overvote if
the smudge is dark enough.

The folks in Arlington Virginia reported a 4-percent residual vote
rate on absentee ballots, until they reset the scanners in their
counting room to kick back overvotes and ballots that scanned as
blank so that the canvassing board could inspect them. They found
that most of these ballots had legitimate votes that were being
discounted because of use of the wrong pen or because of smudges,
creases in the paper that read as marks, or similar problems.

                        Doug Jones
                        jones@cs.uiowa.edu
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Received on Mon Nov 1 15:28:57 2004

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