Two-Minute Warning on Voting

USA – Diebold/Premier says too late to fix a new voting machine 2-minute warning and “time-out” feature which can kick voters off the machine, forcing them to accept a provisional ballot. “At least 15” voters were booted off the machine in Johnson County, Kansas recently, and Diebold/Premier says this is due to a software “upgrade” which sets a timer on voter inactivity. According to the company, the machines receiving the upgrade are used in 34 states and 1,700 jurisdictions.*

*This seems inflated, though. Unless the optical scan machines are also outfitted with a 2-minute warning, which doesn’t make sense, it would seem that this should only apply to the DRE states and locations.

Joining This Problem to Make It Bigger

A study on DRE allocation from Ohio indicates that it takes an average of four to nine minutes per voter to cast an average-length ballot, and ballots in many locations will be longer than average this fall. Each additional ballot question can add 30 seconds to the time a voter must monopolize the DRE.

Diebold’s 2-minute timeout kicks in when the voter does not make a selection quickly enough. (Welcome to 21st Century literacy tests: Speed reading.)

According to a Sept. 9 Kansas City Star Article, Johnson County upgraded touchscreen voting machines with a new software release from Diebold subsidiary Premier Election Solutions Inc. Buried in the release notes was a mention of a new “time out” feature that makes the voting machine eject a voter card if there has been no activity for 150 seconds. The machine emits a warning sound at 120 seconds.

Have You Been to the Supermarket Just as People Are Getting Out of Work?

They activate more checkout lanes, don’t they? Retail outlets have developed methods to study how customer lines are affected by both number of items and volume of customers. The same kinds of analysis techniques were used to study DRE voting machine allocations with number of ballot questions (items in the cart, so to speak) and number of voters. Retail outlets learned the hard way that the wrong calculations on active checkout lanes can produce “exploding lines” and angry customers.

As the study points out, lines literally do explode when a certain threshold is met.

DRE voting machines take a time certain for each vote cast, and that time increases dramatically with each ballot question added. By all accounts, the November election will bring in record numbers of voters.

It Gets Worse

If 2-minute time-outs and record voter participation aren’t challenging enough, try this on for size: [This Ohio study] — and all the others we’ve seen — FAIL TO CONTEMPLATE THE EFFECT OF CLEANING THE VOTER LISTS.

In 2004, a list of 100 voters in a state like Indiana had only about 75 real, qualified, live and kicking voters on it. All over America, states have been cleaning the dead wood off their lists, with millions of purges in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Though the word “purge” has taken on an aura of disenfranchisement, and indeed purges have been used to disenfranchise eligible voters, what happened after 2004 was in large part cleansing the list of voters who had moved away or died. 2004 lists were chock-full of names that couldn’t show up if they tried. Not so in 2008!

In 2004, 100 voters might really mean 75 people but in 2008, 100 voters means 100 people.

Add this increased density — same number of registered voters = more people who actually exist — into the mix of 2-minute time clocks and exploding DRE lines. The projections for how many DRE voting machines are needed to prevent long lines were based on 2004 voter list density, not 2008 voter list density.

This means the estimates for voting machine allocation are still too low.

So Here It is in a Nutshell

The Help America Vote Act, HAVA, successfully strong-armed the nation into getting DRE voting machines. HAVA didn’t cover the full cost, and costs keep coming, strapping local jurisdictions into killing off neighborhood polling places and dipping into the general fund to cover losses.

HAVA didn’t fund buying more voting machines, so now that we have more voters headed to the booth, we can’t buy more voting machines.

Now you know why elections officials are out there like contest hawkers at the carnival pitching absentee and early voting: There aren’t enough machines for the voting population, they can’t buy any more, and the only way to avoid the train wreck is to push people into absentee and early votes. Those have other problems, which we’ll address in another article.

Welcome to SPEED VOTING. Aargh.

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Wisconsin Voter List Less Nimble Than a Block of Cheese

Section 4 of our concise TOOL KIT 2008 deals with the need to test out database quirks and matching problems in the massive new centralized voter list databases. Typos, variations in whether middle initial, Jr., and suffixes like “II” can affect whether the database can find you!

Officials in Wisconsin did just that, and here’s what happened:

WISCONSIN – System fails to match voter registration info for more than half of Wisconsin’s chief elections officials.

In fact, in a checkup five days before this week’s election, four out of six members of the state Government Accountability Board’s members failed when their names were run through new voter identification checks as a test, the board said.

You can read more about that here.

According to a release by the Brennan Center for Justice, Wisconsin has now dropped the match requirements.

You can read more about that here.

We should expect to see similar problems in more states. At particular risk are states that require an exact match between the voter list and other government lists. Florida is one such state.

* * * * *

Download a copy of The Black Box Voting TOOL KIT 2008 for free here (pdf). The Tool Kit recommends that citizens, like you, obtain the voting machine allocation plans for your jurisdiction. This is going to become critical for locations that use touch-screens, or DREs. Unlike optical scan voting machines, DREs require voters to monopolize a machine the whole time they are voting.

You can add your insights and ask questions here.

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