NY Times Editorial: In Search of Accurate Vote Totals

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Tue Sep 05 2006 - 09:17:16 CDT


September 5, 2006
In Search of Accurate Vote Totals
It's hard to believe that nearly six years after the disasters of
Florida in 2000, states still haven't mastered the art of counting
votes accurately. Yet there are growing signs that the country is
moving into another presidential election cycle in disarray.
The most troubling evidence comes from Ohio, a key swing state, whose
electoral votes decided the 2004 presidential election. A recent
government report details enormous flaws in the election system in
Ohio's biggest county, problems that may not be fixable before the
2008 election.
Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, hired a consulting firm to
review its election system. The county recently adopted Diebold
electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper record
of every vote cast. The investigators compared the vote totals
recorded on the machines after this year's primary with the paper
records produced by the machines. The numbers should have been the
same, but often there were large and unexplained discrepancies. The
report also found that nearly 10 percent of the paper records were
destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised.
This is seriously bad news even if, as Diebold insists, the report
overstates the problem. Under Ohio law, the voter-verified paper
record, not the voting machine total, is the official ballot for
purposes of a recount. The error rates the report identified are an
invitation to a meltdown in a close election.
The report also found an array of other problems. The county does not
have a standardized method for conducting a manual recount. That is
an invitation, as Florida 2000 showed, to chaos and litigation. And
there is a serious need for better training of poll workers, and for
more uniform voter ID policies. Disturbingly, the report found that
31 percent of blacks were asked for ID, while just 18 percent of
others were.
Some of these problems may be explored further in a federal lawsuit
challenging Ohio's administration of its 2004 election. Secretary of
State Kenneth Blackwell, who has been criticized for many decisions
he made on election matters that year, recently agreed to help
preserve the 2004 paper ballots for review in the lawsuit.
Ohio is not the only state that may be headed for trouble in 2008.
New York's Legislature was shamefully slow in passing the law needed
to start adopting new voting machines statewide. Now localities are
just starting to evaluate voting machine companies as they scramble
to put machines in place in time for the 2007 election. (Because of a
federal lawsuit, New York has to make the switch a year early.) Much
can go wrong when new voting machines are used. There has to be
extensive testing, and education of poll workers and voters. New
York's timetable needlessly risks an Election Day disaster.
Cuyahoga County deserves credit for commissioning an investigation
that raised uncomfortable but important questions. Its report should
be a wake-up call to states and counties nationwide. Every
jurisdiction in the country that runs elections should question
itself just as rigorously, and start fixing any problems without

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424

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