Buried in an article about filing deadlines1 we find three hints for what’s to come in 2014 for West Virginia:1) Taking a step back from transparent vote counts, removing paper ballot options; 2) Increasing use of combined vote centers, which reduce ballot privacy;
3) Increasing use of electronic poll books in place of physical poll books.
“Paper ballots will no longer be an option,” says Mike Goode, county clerk for West Virginia’s Wyoming County. According to the Wyoming County Report, Goode says “We’re one of the last counties to even offer paper.”
If so, County Clerk Goode and the state of West Virginia are going against trend. The so-called “Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail” (VVPAT) used in West Virginia is inferior to voter-marked paper ballots, which are (a) durable; (b) marked by the voter himself; and (c) much more practical for any subsequent ballot examination, such as a recount, court contest, or citizen ballot examination under Freedom of Information law.
HOW COMBINED VOTE CENTERS REDUCE SECRECY OF THE BALLOT
Vote centers reduce ballot privacy by creating much smaller subsets for each ballot. Let me show you how this happens using real data from a real election in Shelby County, Tennessee:
Due to use of combined vote centers, out of 129 voters in the data set below, 21 lost their political privacy.
Let’s take Precinct 1603: Total votes from Precinct 1603 = 991. If all persons voted at polling place, your ballot would be mixed in with 991 other ballots. There would be 991 names on the poll list, but you can’t know which ballot belongs to which voter.
Now let’s look at what happens when combined vote centers are used: Instead of mixing your ballot with all the others from your precinct, ballots are distributed into tiny subsets. Below is the breakout of the first 39 precincts, with number of voters per precinct who voted at Bishop Byrne High School. Any time there is just one ballot in the subset, that voter has lost secrecy of the ballot. If the number is red, that voter lost ballot privacy.
|Precinct:||Votes at Bishop Byrne combined vote center|
The data above was taken from a primary election; in precinct 4602 for example, one voter voted with a Republican ballot and one with a Democratic ballot. If one voter has a different ballot than the other, he loses political privacy. The smaller the subset, the more likely a single ballot will differ from the rest of the set. Ballot secrecy loss due to unique ballot style is shown in [brackets].
Loss of ballot privacy is not limited to eyeballing the documents. Because these records are stored in electronic data tables, private vote choices can be harvested by technicians, capturing voter choices, connected to name of voter, for thousands of votes at once.
To make matters worse, election officials, who can clearly see how these people voted, sometimes obfuscate this issue by declining to provide the basic accounting documents needed for public authentication of the election. Publicly provable, accurate vote counts arise from a higher level set of human rights than the secret ballot. Ballot privacy is also considered a human right, according to the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. Denying access to the records needed to prove an accurate vote count does not solve either category of rights, because it does not prevent either the government or private technicians from seeing how you voted.
Rarely, if ever, is loss of ballot secrecy discussed by either election officials or news reporters when announcing implementation of combined vote centers.
There is no doubt that the decision to add more combined vote centers will compromise the secrecy of more ballots.
ELECTRONIC POLL BOOKS
Keeping track of voters on electronic poll books is not an awful idea, providing you have a paper backup system available at the polls to prevent long lines when e-pollbooks malfunction, and providing that the e-pollbook data tables can be exported promptly as public records.
Election slowdowns: A single malfunction in any poll book computer can cause near-shutdown of voting processes by bottlenecking the check-in process.
Public records: The data in electronic poll books provides the list of who can vote and the record for who did vote. This should match the number of votes counted for that location and voter history reports.
E-pollbooks, participating voter list, voter history records: Information contained in e-pollbooks should match the participating voter list and the voter history record. Regardless of whether a county uses paper or electronic poll books, poll book information must be transferred to the permanent voter history file.
When I compared a voter history/participating voter list (Shelby County TN) and the data from its corresponding electronic poll books:
– I found more than a hundred voters who were listed in the e-pollbook as voting in the Republican primary, shown in voter history as voting in the Democratic primary, or vice versa.
– Some votes that appeared in the electronic pollbook never showed up in voter history.
– A promised benefit for e-pollbooks, that they prevent two votes cast with just one voter name, did not appear to be true. I found names recorded as voting both at polls (in the e-pollbook) and absentee (in the absentee list) but these voters are shown as having voted only once in the voter history. This leads to a troubling discovery: Even if multiple votes are put into the system using just one person’s name, the voter history list, from whence comes the participating voter report, records only one vote — allowing election workers complete freedom to insert votes into either voting machines or absentee ballot piles.
E-pollbooks and voter history databases live in two separate programs housed in two different places. If electronic poll books are to be used, careful attention needs to be given to providing data promptly for both pollbooks and voter history; it must be considered to be a public record.
Heads up to West Virginians: Ask for these records and compare e-pollbook data, vote totals, and voter history tables.
It may be legal, it may be a done deal, but it’s not been established that any of the three changes described by County Clerk Mike Goode are wise, nor, in the case of electronic poll books, whether they even work properly.
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Election transparency: Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections, the essential steps being: (1) who can vote (voter list), (2) who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list), (3) counting of the vote, and (4) chain of custody. Reasons for transparency with sources: http://blackboxvoting.org/transparency/
All Black Box Voting stories related to election transparency: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/election-transparency/
- Mary Catherine Brooks: Filing period begins today , Wyoming County Report, 1/13/2014, http://www.wycoreport.com/localnews/x1956154016/Filing-period-begins-today ↩