"Stringing" ballots; an oddity, or useful way to prevent fraud?

I recently received an email message from a voter in West Virginia, describing the following process when they voted using optical scan ballots:

When we got the ballot we were given the ballot and a small stub that we had to turn in at the end to the ballot taker. Actually what he did was take the small stub, tear off a perforated section of the ballot, and, using a large needle and heavy thread piece them together with other like pieces of paper! WEIRD!

Weird indeed, until I received this email, I had never heard of this procedure.

My first check was to find out if this is official West Virginia state procedure, and it seems to be. If you look at the materials provided on the West Virigina Secretary of State’s website on optical scan voting procedures, this odd procedure is discussed in a number of places in the powerpoint file.

As best as I could determine, this procedure is meant to guard against ballot-box stuffing. The idea is to keep close track of the number of ballots cast, to insure that there are not more ballots in the box at the end of election day then were issued throughout the day of voting.

But there is a serious downside to this procedure. If the ballot box is configured so that ballots are piling up inside the box in something roughly approximating sequential order, it might be possible to link back up individual identities with voted ballots after the election. There are a couple of ways to provide additional safeguards of ballot secrecy with such a procedure, for example making sure that ballots do not stack up on sequential order, “stringing” on multiple strings, or doing something like just periodically shaking the ballot box to make sure that the voted ballots are mixed to an ordering that is not sequential.

In any case, this is clearly an odd procedure. I’ll be more than happy to post any useful information that readers pass along about this — or other similar procedures.