Monday, May 03, 2004

Your vote doesn't count: voting machines under fire.
The recent decision by the California Secretary of State to bar Diebold election machines from being used in four counties is a major sign of the mounting concerns over these new machines. He's also asked for a criminal investigation of Diebold, the leading manufacturer, and the one whose owner is openly committed to seeing Bush elected. In Florida and elsewhere, the machines (even those not made by Diebold) have led in some cases to massive undercounts where thousands of voters didn't have their vote counted. Here's how the Sun-Sentinel reported the situation in March:

Broward County's senior voters apparently had more trouble than most with relatively new electronic voting machines during this week's Democratic presidential primary, a development that has local party leaders worried about flawed ballots in November's presidential race.

At polling locations in which the only choice was who should get the Democratic presidential nomination, 169 people arrived at the polls and -- for whatever reason -- did not select a candidate, records show.

Almost half of those "undervotes" -- 80 ballots -- were cast in precincts where the average voter is 65 years or older, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel review of voting records.

Undervotes could account for up to 4,000 of the ballots cast in November's presidential race in Broward, if historical trends hold.

"That's a frightening statistic," Broward County Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Ceasar said. "We have a large number of folks who are elderly and not comfortable with these machines."

The 2000 presidential election was arguably decided by a controversial 537-vote margin in Florida. Broward has about 1 million registered voters and the highest number of Democrats in the state.

According to a representative sampling by the Sun-Sentinel, senior-only communities accounted for four of the top five polling locations with the heaviest undervoting. While the countywide average undervote was about 1 percent, the undervote rate in these precincts ranged from 2.9 to 5.7 percent.

The newspaper ranked precincts by how many undervotes were among the total ballots cast in each precinct, eliminating those in which fewer than 100 total ballots were cast, showing a cross-section of Broward County voters, younger and older. That sample included 57 of the 224 precincts targeted for review.

Precincts with municipal races were eliminated, for example, to account for voters who might have opted to make a choice in a local race and not the presidential contest.

Of the top five undervoting precincts in the sample, there was only one in which the average voter was younger than 65: precinct 104R in Fort Lauderdale's Melrose Park.

The top precinct was 13A in Deerfield Beach's Century Village East, where 10 undervotes accounted for 5.7 percent of the total votes cast. In precinct 20M in Sunrise Lakes Phase 3, six undervotes accounted for 3.5 percent of the votes. In precinct 18A, also in Century Village, five undervotes accounted for 3.3 percent of the votes. In the Melrose Park precinct, four undervotes accounted for 3.2 percent of the total votes. In Plantation's 16N precinct in Lauderdale West, four undervotes accounted for 2.9 percent of the votes.

'that's too many'

Amadeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella, an 87-year-old Deerfield Beach city commissioner who represents Century Village East, reacted to that news with the same alarm as Ceasar.

"That's too many [undervotes]," Trinchitella said. "Some of our people are elderly, sick, whatever. But it doesn't matter. We have a right to vote, and I think there should be every safeguard."

That's a small-scale forecast of what's to come as 50 million people try to use the machines during the presidential election. Unfortunately, we could be facing more chaos in November, because the clamor for computers with "paper trails" isn't likely going to be met this close to an election. Equally as troubling were demonstrations in Maryland in which hackers were shown easily penetrating machines, manipulating results and even fooling volunteer poll workers into letting them start up the machines for them.

And the electronic flaws are heightened by the knowledge that there's no independent electronic record of the votes, either, so your vote is totally depending on the hard drive and ballot components working properly. In too many cases, don't. With a close election expected in 17 states, including Florida, these flaws could spell the difference between victory and defeat for each candidate. Expect chaos ahead.

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