More early voting observations from California, and a question about the Diebold VVPAT device

In the past two days, we’ve done some additional observation of early voting, again at the Jackie Robinson location in Pasadena, and in West Covina.

First, we made a short visit to the Jackie Robinson center in Pasadena yesterday, where I accompanied a friend who wished to try early electronic voting. The one photo I took of the site shows the two chairs in front of the demonstration video. My friend was authenticated to vote before he could watch the complete video (which we learned here was indeed available in both English and Spanish, a question that we had noted in some of our earlier early voting observations in which the video only seemed to play in English and the pollworkers seemed to think that it was only able to run in English).

My friend’s voting experience went fine, but afterwards, when we were walking in front of the early voting location, he asked me about the paper audit trail. He wanted to know where it was on the voting device. I was surprised, and asked him whether or not he had seen it when he voted … he said he didn’t see any paper trail, and didn’t know where it was. This, by the way, is someone who works with technology all day long and is very much a techie!

Second, I went with one of our graduate students today to the early voting location at the West Covina County Library; here is a picture of the exterior of the site. It was right off the 10 freeway in West Covina, was easily visible from the surface streets, and there was plenty of parking! There were plenty of signs directing us to the early voting location, and when we we came into a well-light and well-established early voting site, with a very friendly and helpful polling place inspector (who answered all our questions!). Turnout was relatively slight; we were there for over an hour, and saw perhaps a dozen or so folks vote.

Here are pictures of the polling place. The first shows most of the voting devices, with the polling inspector showing our student the voting devices. The second pans left, showing the rest of the voting devices and the area where pollworkers authenticated the voters. The third moves further left, showing the entrance to the room, the table where voters check-in, and behind that, the area where voters can watch the demonstration video (here playing in English and Spanish). The final photo is a close-up of the demonstration video area.

Immediately after taking these pictures, during a period when there were no voters present in this location, I went over and talked with the inspector and our student about the voting devices. At that point, two interesting things happened. First, I noticed one somewhat unusual thing about the way the paper audit trail device on the Diebold machines used in LA County was set up that could explain why some — like my friend above — seem unaware of the presence of the paper audit trail (more about that below!). The second was that at this point (with no voters present) I requested to take a picture of the aspect of the voting device that I had questions about, and then two of the pollworkers strongly objected and said we could not take photos and that we should not be in a position where we could see the screens of the voting devices.

The inspector objected to this (defending our observing rights!), but the student and I left the area, and apoligized. The inspector listened to their objections, then called his superiors. After a number of phone calls between the inspector and headquarters, and the pollworkers and headquarters, we were informed that we could indeed see the screens of the voting devices and take photos, as long as no one was voting. Three cheers for openness and for letting observers have access to the process (and special thanks to the Los Angeles Registrar/Recorder, Conny McCormack and her great staff who try to give researchers and observers as much access to the election process as they possibly can)!

Now, back to the issue I noted with the Diebold VVPAT device. Given that pollworkers were objecting to my photographs (and looking at the screen of the voting machines), I decided not to take a picture, but instead will refer readers to this photo. Here, the VVPAT device is located on the lower right of the terminal, underneath the blue shield that is perpendicular to the machine (the actual VVPAT paper ballot is behind that shield). I noticed that on one of the voting devices today this shield was closed, thus meaning that unless a voter using that device with the shield closed knew where the VVPAT was located and opened the shield, he or she might not be aware that the VVPAT ballot was even there! [Note that one of the pollworkers who did not want us looking at the machines walked around and flipped the screen up today after we noted this problem.]

Is this the reason my friend yesterday was not aware of the VVPAT ballot? I don’t know. Is this leading some voters to be confused about the VVPAT? Maybe. I asked the inspector why that shield was there, and he said that he thought it was there to protect the device for storage. My reaction is that it should be removed when the devices are in operation (or somehow fixed open during voting), just to insure that it is not shut and that it does not either confuse voters or lead them to not know where their VVPAT ballot is located.