Voting machine problems in Ashland, Oregon

In Ashland, there's a city council race that's still undecided. Why? Voting machine problems. From the Mail-Tribune:

"There are things going on with these machines that shouldn't happen," said Beckett, who nevertheless expressed confidence that the final results would be accurate.

Two new Elections System and Software 550 scanning machines have been put out of commission because they were involved in the miscount of Precinct 2 in Ashland, which is above Siskiyou Boulevard from the northern boundary of the city up to Ashland Street. ...

"They said they would count blue ink, but it counts some blue ink but not all," she said. "We found out that the black Bic pens had too much red in them." The scanners don't read red, so these ballots had to be counted manually.

As a result of the problems, Beckett said voters may have to go back to using No. 2 pencils to fill in their ballots in future elections.

Of course, here in Oregon, we have a complete paper trail: boxes of ballots that can be handcounted when trouble strikes.


  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Of course, here in Oregon, we have a complete paper trail: boxes of ballots that can be handcounted when trouble strikes.

    So do the people in a number of other states. And by 2008, in the wake of a couple of court challenges that it appears will now be launched - most notably in the FL-13 Jennings/Buchanan race - it is now likely that virtually every state will be back to using some form of publicly recountable paper ballot.

    What's more interesting is that in the end, this actually demonstrates yet another reason VBM is such a poor way to run elections: Here we have a situation that results have been delayed for a week because of a problem that would not have occurred if people voted at a polling place where pens that could be read by the scanning machines would have been used.

  • Russell (unverified)

    Vote by mail is a poor way to run elections...but it gets people to vote. SEVENTY PERCENT of the people. Compared to the national average, that doesn't sound too poor to me.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Vote by mail is a poor way to run elections...but it gets people to vote. SEVENTY PERCENT of the people. Compared to the national average, that doesn't sound too poor to me.

    Unfortunately, it is a fact that VBM has not increased voter participation rates to any significant degree, nor has there been any success at demonstrating it is responsible from the higher rates that are seen in the NW in some, but not all, elections. The numbers and cites to studies that prove the former contention have been mentioned elsewhere on this blog whenever VBM whiners attempt to justify why we have the one of the most irresponsible and worst systems in the country.

    What did happen in Oregon before we switched to VBM, and this year in Washington, is that voter rolls were purged of inactive voters before the election which gives the exceedingly misleading appearance of an increase in voter participation rates. Whether that was intentional in Oregon, since it occurred long before the HAVA-mandates and the 2006 fiasco in Washington that are responsible for the purge there, is anybody's guess.

    So VBM supporters can believe whatever they want, the facts simply are to the contrary.

  • (Show?)

    If you read the quote, it says they were told it would read all blue ink, but come to find out it doesn't. They didn't know this until they started running ballots through, therefore they would have still allowed blue ink for voting.

    These same problems happen at polling sites as well. Many people will use their own writing instrument once they get to the booth. Having worked the polls before (in a paid position, not volunteer) in Texas, I've seen it happen many times.

    Vote by mail is a great thing. It gives people more time to deal with a ballot that is often times longer than anything you'd see in any other state. I can't remember a time where I ever had a ballot that was very long in Texas. It was made even shorter by the fact that local offices (school board, city council, etc.) were often held in their own separate election. It also increases turnout.

    Turnout in my home county in Texas was just over 35%! If I read the statewide one correctly, it was just under 33%. Many states were in the 40-50% turnout range. Something like VBM that makes voting easier and increases turnout is a good thing.

    Other counties should look at doing it the Multnomah County way-- recreate ballots (with a panel of people, not just one or two, complete with onlookers) and then run them through the machine.

    Of course the company that makes the machines is hugely to blame, since they said blue ink would work and come to find out not all blue ink would work.

  • KISS (unverified)

    The VBM complainers don't like the idea that voters can take their time and scrutinize the measures and checkout the background on candidates. We had over 70% turn ins on ballots in my county. We use to used the mail-in's long before Oregon went VBM. Using a # 2 lead pencil always works...can't you afford a pencil?

  • (Show?)

    Unfortunately, it is a fact that VBM has not increased voter participation rates to any significant degree,

    Source? Proof?

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    I would say that this is definitely an example of why Vote By Mail works. Even if the ballot-counting machines (not the voting machines; we don't use voting machines in Oregon, since we have no polling places) fail, other machines can be trucked in after the fact, or the ballots can be counted by hand. So the results of the election are delayed by a few days or weeks. The candidates won't take office until January, anyways. This is why the founding fathers set up the system this way -- we vote in November, but candidates wait until January to take office, in part to allow for the time that it takes to travel by horse from the capital to the home district and back, and in part to allow plenty of time for the voting process itself to run its course.

    Polling places are just sooooo 20th-century.

  • ses (unverified)

    While I do agree that polling places are a thing of the past, it was a much friendlier time when they were around. Call me nostalgic, but all the things that contribute to our fast paced society just seem to remove the individual from the process. Going to the polls was one way to connect to your neighbors, even if only once in a while, that is totally lost now. I am glad for the turn-out and proud of the example Oregon is for the country, but I sure do miss the walk to my polling place.

  • Randy2 (unverified)

    I love VBM. I spend a week thinking about ballot measures, reading the Voters' Pamphlet, watching ads, noticing newspaper articles and reading BlueOregon. Then I make my decisions. The next week I think about candidates (or at least those I haven't decided on).

    This election I utilized a drive-by drop box on Tuesday for the first time in my life.

    When one considers what the turnout would have been with the heavy rains in Oregon, one can only be grateful for VBM.


  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Let me take these in order:

    Jenni Simonis -

    If you read the quote, it says they were told it would read all blue ink, but come to find out it doesn't.

    And if people had voted at a polling place where the pens known to work with the machines as recommended by the machine manufacturer are provied, there would have been no problem and the votes would have been counted the night of the election. As is done in every jurisdiction I've lived in where an intelligent process is used. And by the way, I've worked polling stations too, and the rate of people using their own writing instruments is exceedingly low compared to what apparently was experienced here.

    Vote by mail is a great thing. It gives people more time to deal with a ballot that is often times longer than anything you'd see in any other state.

    So do sample ballots. And again every place except Oregon I've lived and voted in either mailed sample ballots, or the newspapers printed sample ballots, or both. So why exactly are you unable to understand that people don't need a live ballot to accomplish what you describe?

    Of course the company that makes the machines is hugely to blame

    No, the system which makes this even possible, unlike a polling place election, is what is to blame. And by the way, some states like CT, that is reported to have had a huge turnout, still use lever machines that record on paper with great success. So there are even polling place alternatives that don't need pens which are impossible with VBM.

    KISS -

    I've just explained why voters don't need a live ballot to do what you describe. So do you have anything relevant to add to the argument?

    Kari Chisholm -

    First, Russell made an assertion so technically the onus is on him to prove it.

    Second, if you use the Google box in the upper-right corner to search for VBM (and variants) on, the previous threads in which this was discussed extensively will come up. Those include the specific comments as to how even the academics hired by the state were unable to show that VBM increased participation to any meaningful degree.

    Garlynn -

    How does the fact that ballots can't be counted because they are marked with the wrong ink, and which would not have been marked with the wrong ink AND counted the day of the election in a polling place election, prove that VBM works? Particularly since none of the "advantages" cited by the other defenders of VBM are unique to VBM?

    Polling places are just sooooo 20-th century

    So, apparently, is logic and critical thinking. Thanks for sharing.

    ses -

    You make a more profound point that some may grasp. As you may be aware, this subject has been debated extensively on this site. And I think it fair to say every advantage, save one, claimed by supporters has shown to either be false, or be easily replicated in polling place elections. At the same time, beside random fiascos like this, VBM has several fundamental problems that are inimical to the best interests our society:

    a) It is insecure in the sense there is no way to have any assurance that the person who signed the envelope actually marked the ballot (leaving aside the fact that anyone who believes signature verification is meaningful is clueless - talk to your bank and find out what role signature verification actually plays in their security process.)

    b) It eliminates the true privacy of the voting booth - which in fact removes a voter from any type of outside influence at the time he or she votes.

    c) There is no way to do an exit poll. And even though there are paper ballots with VBM, those ballots are still tabulated on electronic machines which can produce erroneous counts either by intent or by hardware failures. And for those who always have smart-aleck, but truly uniformed comments about the irrelevancy of exit polls: How about them exit polls this year? They called every Senate race correctly, including those which the pollsters called toss-ups right up until election day. Not to mention that Jennings in Florida is at a significant disadvantage right now in her court case to challenge the rather odd outcome of 13,000 undervotes on one of the "top-of-the-ticket" races because there was no exit polling for House races.

    But the main problem with VBM is that, as you suggest, it turns voting into a consumer activity and encourages slovenly civic behavior by citizens. The idea of having people interrupt their daily activities for one day (two if you count primaries) every year, or two years, to do participate in a common civic ritual of renewing our government has intrinsic value to our representative democracy.

    Unfortunately, we are not in the realm here of what is good for our representative democracy, much less of critical thinking. As with many thing in politics, this is about what people believe for their own irrational or selfish (in the best Ayn Randian mis-use of that term) reasons.

    Randy2 -

    My hat is off to you sir. In all sincerity, you are a talented writer of good satire and I wish I had a fraction of your skill:

    You waited until election day to actually cast your ballot. And then you drove to a drop-box location to cast it. Plus everything you did in the interim did not depend on having a live ballot and instead could have been done with a sample ballot.

    Almost exactly like voting in a polling place election. Except, and here is the part for which I actually do admire your expressive skill: You got to do the environmentally advantageous thinking of driving to a drop box rather than walking to a local polling place. And rther than talk to people on election day, perhaps about the future of our state and country, and maybe have to wait just a few minutes to actually get, mark, and cast your ballot, you got to do that important American civic ritual of driving through and meeting your consumer needs - in this case dropping your ballot in the ballot box - WITHOUT EVEN GETTING OUT OF YOUR CAR!

    I can only say: Well done patriot!

    I've already dealt with the canard that VBM increases participation.

  • (Show?)

    There is no way to do an exit poll.

    Incorrect. You get the list of people who have voted, and then do a regular ol' phone survey of them.

    I've been waiting for years for a media organization to do just that. Not sure why they don't.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Incorrect. You get the list of people who have voted, and then do a regular ol' phone survey of them.

    No, that is incorrect for several reasons:

    1) Phone surveys do not occur right as someone comes out of the voting booth. Part of the value of the exit poll is the immediacy of capturing the information.

    2) A increasingly large percentage of the electorate is only reliably reachable on cell phones rather than land lines. Exit polls capture that segment, phone polls don't because right now they can only reach people through land lines (in fact this is being cited as one of the reasons that phone polls are becoming less accurate).

    3) Phone polls are intrusive in a way that exit polls aren't: They're impersonal, they're done at a time when people are most likely to be at home and resent being disturbed, and they lack the intimacy of an exit poll where people are more likely to be more honest in a face-to-face interaction. (From what I've read in the past, but honestly can't find a reference to right now, exit pollers find that people like to talk about what they have done in the voting booth a few moments before at a much higher rate than phone pollers precisely because it is a personal interaction.)

    4) Exit polls are generally more anonymous and that is a good thing for an audit and for the republic: The one time I was exit polled I was not even asked my name, so the pollster didn't have a "list" of those who voted. Personally, I resent the fact right now that we have a centralized state database of whose voted since these centralized lists were really only introduced to deal with a false right-wing issue of illegitimate voters. These lists have mainly been used as the enabling mechanism for purging legitimate voters from the roles and the kind of microGOTV efforts the right wing had been more successful with than our side. (I have yet to see any hard numbers that this actually changed with this election).

    I'm actually more than a little bit amused that all of the false "progressives" how support VBM are also all for such extensive list making of voter behavior. But I think that is further evidence of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of many "progressive" VBM supporters.

    So no, post-election phone polls are not a remotely valid substitute for genuine exit polls as an audit mechanism on principle or in practice.

  • (Show?)

    and the kind of microGOTV efforts the right wing had been more successful with than our side.

    Proof? Source?

    While Karl Rove's vaunted 72-hour program did pretty well in key states in 2004, the Democrats have generally dominated in GOTV efforts.

  • Russell (unverified)

    Ask Questions -

    Go here first:

    The last page gives you the number of registered voters, the number of registered voters who voted, and the percentages. Unfortunately, Mr. Bradbury's office has yet to release 2006 stats on the site; however, you can see that in the last primary election (2002) more than 1.29 million people cast ballots in Oregon (out of some 1.87 million registered voters), equating a voter turnout of 69.1 percent of registered voters. In 2004, registration was at 2,141,000.

    The last paragraph of this article states that in 2006, 1.4 million people voted, or "seventy percent of registered voters". That means that there was roughly 2,000,000 people registered to vote in 2006, versus 2,141,000 - a difference of 141,000. So, at least 141,000 voters were purged. If there were 2,141,000 registered voters and 1,400,000 voted, WE WOULD STILL HAVE VOTER TURNOUT OVER 65 PERCENT. Obviously the math isnt exact because I don't know the number of newly registered voters between 2004 and 2006.

    So maybe you're right...

    Also, in the last thirty years, there were only two midterm elections in which voter registration actually increased from two years prior: 1978 and 1994. There has been plenty of comparisons between 2006 and 1994. Maybe 2006 is one of those years where voter registration increased since the last presidential election. In 1994, voter reg increased by at least 57,000. Let's say that this year, registration increased by 100,000, compared to 2004. That would mean that AT LEAST 241,000 voters were purged. OREGON WOULD STILL HAVE VOTER TURNOUT ABOVE 62 PERCENT...and 241,000 voters would be more than 10 percent of those registered.

    My point is that purging some inactive voter rolls isn't going to make that much difference in turnout percentages. And regardless of whether voter turnout in Oregon is 70 or 65 or 62 percent, we're still far beyond the national turnout. Maybe VBM doesn't increase overall turnout in terms of statewide population, but in terms of registered voters, it certainly does.

    "The secretary of state's office said 48 percent of eligible Californians voted in last week's election, although absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted so that number is expected to rise slightly."

    58.86 percent voter turnout in Washington State.

    Now it's your turn to prove something: what percentage of registered voters got purged? Where can I find that information, or anything regarding the process of purging voters. Or, if you have the number of newly registered voters in Oregon (2004-2006), we can deduce the number that got purged.

  • (Show?)

    1) Ballots are not "hand counted" in an Oregon recount. They are re-run through the machine.

    2) I cannot fathom the "more time to think" argument for VBM. It's not as if on Nov 7th, you suddenly realize there is an election occurring.

  • (Show?)

    First, the polling place could have very well used the wrong pens themselves, if we'd had a traditional voting method. It wouldn't have been until the ballots began running through, and they noticed a pattern of ballots not being accepted, that they would have figured it out.

    At that point they would have pulled all the bad pens, and had to make a rule that people could ONLY use the writing instruments provided by the poll workers. Some place I've seen don't start running the ballots through until the polling location closes. So it would've been too late by the time they found the problem.

    And maybe your experience in working the polls is different than mine, but very few people actually picked up a writing instrument from me when I worked the polls (and I worked precincts that were quite large in comparison to Oregon's old precincts). Most used their own writing instruments. And once they're in the boxes you're not supposed to look over their shoulders, so it makes it hard to see what exactly they're doing.

    And in Texas I never received a sample ballot in the mail. There may be one in the newspaper, but only a small portion of the voting public buys the newspaper.

    You'd be surprised how many people take a considerable amount of time to work on their ballots. Over the past few weeks I talked with many of these people on the phones. They'd been trying to figure out for some time how to vote on judicial races and measures. Having that ballot right there encourages them to work on it, rather than putting it off like they would if they didn't have a ballot until election day. This is why turnout in many places is 50% or less, but Oregon's is around 70%.

    I've worked in a paid position in both types of elections-- polling place and vote by mail. VBM voters are more likely to turn out, often times more likely to fill out a larger portion of their ballot, etc.

    As far as the 2006 numbers go, those will be available on/after the 27th when the election is certified.

    There is absolutely no reason to blame this on VBM. It's the company's fault. They said the machines would read blue pens, and they didn't. Maybe we should go back to pencils only, but even that doesn't necessarily fix the problem. There are a good number of pencils that don't work in the machines. But they're less likely to be in a house than a black Bic pen or the blue pens that don't work.

  • Heidi (unverified)

    good grief. i love vbm. i remember going to the polling place a dozen years ago. i went knowing what i was voting for, and my hand was cramped after filling out the ballot. the ballots are even larger these days.

    i work in the library. i personally witnessed people putting their ballots in the box for 2 weeks up to the election. the busiest day by far was the saturday before.

    to expect people to go to vote on one day to one place in the middle of the work week is irresponsible. there are many people who cannot afford to take the time off of work. they may work far away from their home and the potential polling place.

    who the hell is going to strongarm someone to make them change their vote they've filled out in the privacy of their own home? if it's family dynamics, the privacy of the polling place isn't going to change that much. i'd much rather voting be available and accessible to as many people as possible than to have it be one day in one place to maintain some myth of voter privacy and autonomy.

    i am extremely greatful that in oregon we did not have the hours long lines in poor neighborhoods, the blatant disenfranchisement that exists in other states.

    regarding the exit polls, have you been paying attention? they were still "adjusted" ...there was still vote tampering on those machines... but margins were wide enough that the tampering was not enough. anybody who thinks we'd be better off with diebold machines is living in lala land.

    i would like to see an equivalent of an exit poll in vbm states, i've no doubt it's possible.

    regarding using the right pen: could it be too hard to change the font design on the ballot so it leaps out at the voter?

    regarding signature recognition: what does bank security with signature recognition have to do with it? yes, people can forge signatures. they do that to steal money, not to steal votes, too time intensive for the number of votes they would need to steal. much easier for the diebold company to hand over elections...

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