Franklin County Rolls Out New Voting Machines

Franklin County voters will be using new electronic voting machines in next month’s primary election. In an effort to help them better prepare to cast ballots electronically, elections director Matt Damschroder held a demonstration today in downtown Columbus. He also tried to dispel any suggestion that the machines might tally results incorrectly.

Elections director Matt Damschroder says a voter begins casting his or her ballot on the county’s iVotronic voting machines after a poll worker inserts a small box called a personal electronic ballot or PEB.’

“The ballot will come up and then the voter will have to make their selections as they move throughout the ballot,” Damschroder says. If at any time they want to change their selection, they simply press their previous selection, then move to the next one; touch to select, touch to deselect and move forward.”

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to encourage more accurate tallying of election results in the wake of the troubled 2000 presidential election. But one solution – the electronic voting machine – is now under more suspicion than ever. In Ohio, state law mandates that electronic machines, which store results on computer chips, also record a paper copy. That paper trail can be used in the event of a malfunction. And in the case of Franklin County’s iVotronic machines, voters can verify their electronic choices.

“We really encourage voters as they make their selections electronically to verify; to look through the glass window just to make sure that, Yes, I pressed the button for Dogcatcher,’ and that’s what the ballot recorded,” Damschroder says.

But critics say electronic machines are unreliable and inaccurate.

“I think the system is problematic and I’m a bit disappointed that Franklin County chose to buy it,” says David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University. He says he and others founded the group “VerifiedVoting.org” because of the “threat electronic balloting poses to democracy.” Dill says he’s concluded that even with the most advanced technology there’s no way to make voting machines trustworthy.

“In Carteret County, NC, in 2004, thousands of votes were lost by a machine because it basically filled up and didn’t tell voters and so just threw their votes away,” Dill says. “And that cast doubt on the election because the margin of victory was less than the votes that were lost by the machine. There was also a machine in Miami-Dade County where we discovered that the same number of votes had been counted three times due to a machine malfunction.”

The iVotronic machine has also been found to be inaccurate. Franklin County’s Damschroder says that while a voter might believe a machine cast a ballot for a candidate other than the one the voter selected, he believes in reality the problem is one of “calibration.” He says every machine is tested extensively before each election.

“Every machine, every flash chip, every ‘PEB’ is tested before we put it into the field to make sure that the machine is recording votes properly, that the flash card is recording votes properly. We do that test before election day so that we have a very high level of confidence [in the machines].”

4200 machines will be used in Franklin County precincts May 2nd; 4600 in November’s general election. But for the voter who remains apprehensive about electronic balloting, Matt Damschroder suggests the use of an old fashioned absentee ballot.

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