In November 2008 I was an Election Judge and Data Processing assistant for the Clerk in Boulder County, CO. The county purports to have the most advanced vote counting system available. As a computer professional I discovered serious flaws in both the technology and software on which election outcomes are based. Most of us choose to Vote using a traditional "Paper Ballot" because we feel it to be both hard to alter and easy to count accurately (i.e., in a straight-forward way). This used to be true but the insertion of computer software into the Election Process has introduced both inaccuracy and staggering cost increases into the election process.
|Tabulation is the direct counting of an original by a simple mechanical machine, just as a bank tabulates paper money. If the Bank counted money by Interpretation, similar to how Paper Ballots are processed now, the bank would first take a photo of each bill, digitize it into an image file, and then store all the image files on a computer hard drive. Software would then analyze and interpret the image file of each bill and the results for each photo would later be accumulated into a computer database. Such software could be said to have a kind of "Artificial Intelligence." Later, other software would totalize the various denomination counts and values. Perhaps you remember the recent movie, "I, Robot." It was "Sonny" the robot who developed personal feelings and a sense of self-awareness. Artificial Intelligence is good for the movies but bad when present in politicians, legislators, and/or elections.|
After you have marked your Ballot, what actually happens (perhaps days later) is that the County Clerk and staff
feed your original Paper Ballot through a scanning machine. Even though it is the size of a small refrigerator,
the ballot-scanners are little more than glorified, copy machines.
Scanning does NOT count or evaluate your ballot
- its only function is to create a digital image file on a computer hard drive.
Computer software later analyzes each ballot image and determines which of the many candidate and issue boxes were marked by the Voter.
As a further insult to the integrity of the voting process, each and every paper ballot in Boulder County is marked with a unique, identifiable serial number and barcode. So much for secrecy...
|Each individual ballot contains many races in multiple jurisdictions and therefore one ballot will actually be in a set of up to 3 double-sided sheets. If a ballot set is out of order, or one of the sheets is missing, the scanner will reject the entire ballot set. Frequently a batch of 250 ballots (about 500 sheets) has to be scanned many times before the scanner can image most of the sheets, and most of their sides successfully - 1,000 digitized images. Re-scans, for whatever reason(s), take a lot of time. Ballots that continue to be rejected must be pulled from the batch and individually scanned yet again. Any that are too badly damaged will actually be re-marked by hand on a blank ballot, with the cloned ballot then being scanned again. In any case, once scanned all original Paper Ballots are placed into permanent locked storage. There is no way to retrieve or audit the original ballots from a single polling place.|
|Scanning difficulties come from many different sources, most being associated with contamination and physical damage resulting from the folding, hazardous postal journey, and in-home abuse of mail-in ballots. Any contamination that collects on internal scanner optical surfaces will likely cause one or more artifacts ("optical noise") to be imbedded within the digital image. Folds and white-out residue cause streaks to be copied down the face of the digital image. Folds also cause the ballot to not lay flat, causing paper jams within the scanner's feed mechanisms and guide paths. Re-scans, for whatever reason, take a lot of time.||The scanner will reject a ballot set if there are too few pages (orphan) or the sheets are out of order (mismatch). Imbedded optical artifacts - visual noise - are often responsible for Overvotes, a condition where the Artificial Intelligence software decides that the Voter has voted for more than one candidate or option in a specific race. The AI software is unable to discern if the Overvote was caused by the Voter himself or from scanner-induced noise in the ballot image.|
|The AI software flags all Overvotes in a color on the ballot images. The AI software may flag an Overvote where the Voter filled in one box and noise filled in another. Later a Team of Humans evaluate each Undervote and Overvote in a time-consuming process called "Resolution." In this process, for example, the Team may decide a given race for either candidate "A" or "B" - based on the consensus of the Team regarding what the Voter "intended." If the Team cannot decide the intent then it will invalidate the entire race (i.e., as if the Voter had not voted at all). Voter-intended Undervotes actually have an extreme risk all their own because the AI software may have silently interpreted scanning noise as a Voter-marked box. Such noise-voted races are not flagged in any way and it is only by accident if a Team member spots one.||An actual Voter-intended Undervote may have gotten scanning noise embedded within the voting box (AI evaluation area). If such noise meets the "pixel-count threshold" then the Undervote becomes an actual vote for that race, one that we call a Phantom Vote. The scanning and interpretation processes have combined to cause a race to be "voted" by the Election System rather than by the Voter. The AI software can not distinguish between a Voter mark and optical noise. If either kind of mark appears in the voting box, and meets the "pixel-count threshold," then that race is voted and later counted. In close races scanning and AI interpretation errors could cause a candidate or issue to wrongly win.|
|These are three examples of just how badly voters "mark" their ballots. The images (click to enlarge) are actual screen grabs of scanned ballot images as processed by the Hart "Artificial Intelligence" software. These are the kinds of problems that make the Hart AI computers scream for human intervention. I recall how hard it was for the Resolution Teams (there were at least six or more teams of three humans each) to determine how to resolve such ambiguities. The Hart AI software flags Overvotes in green. All Undervotes go unflagged and some of these become Phantom Votes.||Unfortunately there are no examples available of a so-called Phantom Vote - an Undervote converted (by mis-interpreted scanning noise) into an actual positive vote for a candidate or issue by the AI software. I discovered many Phantom Votes during the lengthy post-election Resolution process. I would have called all five of these examples invalid due to failure of the Voter to follow simple marking instructions. The Democrat members of each Team insisted that 'every vote must count' (no matter what) and that, therefore, extrordinary steps must be taken to divine the 'Voter intent' in every case.|
Multiple vendors will always have unsynchronized releases of hardware and software upgrades. Each will be
accompanied by the need to verify error free interoperability of every changed component with the
all the others individually and as an integrated system.
Each upgrade will have its own installation and testing costs. Some costs will be for Vendors to develop, install, and test changes made necessary by a required upgrade from another Vendor.
At some point, one or more Vendors will discontinue support for an ageing product.
already happened in Boulder County, Colorado: (1) Windows XP is no longer supported by
Microsoft, (2) the Hart
AI software only runs on Windows XP (as of 2009), and (3) the specific, industrial-sized Kodak scanner is no
longer in the
Kodak product lineup. This oudated system will be used at least through the 2010 election cycle,
and some are advocating that it be retained through 2012. In my opinion, this is an un-acceptable
risk for the Electorate to take in such an important Presidential election.
While not comprehensive, these references will give additional information on the subject of voting and certain Election Systems commonly in use. They will be updated and expanded from time to time so please check back often.
Important Disclosure: The incumbent Clerk and Recorder for Boulder County, Colorado, is Democrat Hillary Hall.
In April 2010 I was chosen by the Boulder county Republican Assembly as the 2010 Republican candidate for Boulder County Clerk & Recorder. The observations and comments above are my own, made as a private citizen, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Republican Party.