Illinois State Board of Election Meeting

Mike, Paul Gronke, and I are at the meeting at the State of Illinois Board of Elections. There is Commissioner here chewing a cigar, so we really are in Chicago! What is below represents the discussion that occurred at the meeting.

The elections commission chair noted that this was the first election in the state with early voting, with disability accessible voting systems in every precinct statewide, and the first in recent memory without punch cards. The equipment problems that occurred were not unique, this happens in every election. There were problems with polling places and problems with the wrong ballot styles. In actuality, there were fewer telephone calls to the state than they expected. Voter participation was down throughout the state. Most election administrators recognize that switching systems does not immediately solve all problems, but causes some new unique problems.

There were some interesting problems. Not surprisingly, there were printer issues scattered across the state. More interestingly, in some southern counties, DRE machines were not closed out in some precincts where the machines were not used because there were no voters with disabilities.

The state elections director reiterated that there were fewer equipment-related problems than they expected. Instead, the problems were routine and similar to the problems that generally occur. The voting system director’s report noted that the new voting equipment resulted in counting errors and some machines broke down and had to be replaced.

The underlying problem with the voting equipment was with the printers. There were some memory card problems and judges not being well trained and knowing what to do. They did not close them out well; they did not close down the machines and bring back the memory cards. When the memory card was problematic, they were able to use the paper trail to address the problem.

They discussed the fact that different voting machines performed differently in the election. For example, the Hart InterCivic machines had a problem with their printers and with some screen problems. There were also support problems from some of the vendors, where the technical support people were not completely knowledgeable and could not fully support county needs.

They then had testimony from three individuals. First, the President of Sequoia talked and he stated that the primary election in Chicago had unique challenges because of the use of multiple voting devices within every precinct. There were 19,000 voting devices introduced into the City and County and the primary problem that arose in the election was a delay in tabulation. All total, 95 percent of ballots and 88 percent of precincts were reported on election night. Sequoia will be providing additional training and making changes to their system between now and the 2006 election to improve user friendliness, especially in the area of the controllers. Chicago and Cook County were using leased machines in this election; they will be purchasing the newest line of machines for the 2006 general elections.

Second, the director of election in Cook County spoke. He noted that Cook County is the first jurisdiction nationally that has combined two distinct voting systems in a precinct and tabulated and reported the results in the precincts. He said that the voters liked the new system, no voters were disenfranchised by the transition, and there were no reports of fraud in the election. Again, the problem was that the results were reported later than expected. There are no problems in the election identified in the 5 percent recount or in the discovery recounts. The county will be hiring independent experts to examine the equipment and will also be placing a voting equipment manager in every precinct. In November, they will not share equipment across precincts within the same polling place and will have an expedited process in place to get results if transmission from precinct electronically is problematic. Shockingly, the county also wants more money from the state to improve the election process!

The City thanked the state for their work in certification and testing the equipment, which led to improvements in the systems. In 1975, people didn’t worry about elections but now elections are more complex. There is a huge bureaucracy and expanded elections. For example, early voting went from 1 site to 21 sites and 14,000 people voted early. They did have problems on Election Day and this was one of the most difficult elections they have had. They did get the votes counted accurately, but the transition to the new equipment was difficult.

Were the problems in the election concentrated in certain parts of Chicago, especially the inner city?

The tabulation system works this way: poll workers take the memory pack from optical scan and DRE and combine them together. There were 900 precincts transmitted without a problem. Most of the problems occurred from two instances of sharing equipment in a consolidated precinct. First, there was the problem where there was shared touch screen equipment used in polling places with consolidated precincts. This created problems for poll workers who were unsure how to accumulate votes from one DRE into their own precincts. Second, there were problems associated with two precincts sharing one vote accumulator and transmission equipment system; here the problem was the one precinct had to wait (often up to one hour) for the other precinct to finish their work. Printing the tapes was very slow and it gave a large amount of data that was not needed for tabulation but for auditing purposes. The city did conduct hands-on training but the process for accumulating votes was problematic. There were jamming problems with the some equipment but they were able to feed all the ballots through. Simplifying the task of transmission will make things easier. They will not share equipment in November to address this problem.

The human error side of this is important and is exacerbated by people wanting data immediately on the election results. One state commissioner noted the following (I am paraphrasing here mostly):

election equipment problems occur whenever there are system transitions. The voting equipment is getting more sophisticated and the poll workers are getting less sophisticated. The manual for some of this equipment requires being an electrical engineer. You need a person in every precinct that understands the details and the equipment who are more permanent and know what to do and how to manage things. You have to get a hire quality of election judge and to pay them more. Do you need to vote from 6 am to 7 pm, especially in early voting? Even if you fix the equipment, you are still going to have human problems. For low pay they have to deal with rude voters and colleagues falling asleep on the job. They are hard working people but they can only do so much.

One final issue that was discussed was associated with the security of early voting ballots. The discussion centered on the fact that early voting centers were all located in municipal localities. However, voted ballots were stored in a banker’s box, sealed with tape and signed, in a secured place in the offices. The concern expressed centered on the chain of custody of the ballots, and whether this system achieves that custody.