November 17, 2006

Questions About the Rhode Island Recount Controversy

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Benjamin N. Gedan in today's Projo, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato has ruled that the state Board of Elections must make copies of "ballots that [did] not register a vote during a recount" that can be examined by individuals not associated with the Board. The BOE objects to Judge Fortunato's ruling and has delayed the recounts that were in progress while it seeks to have it overturned...

The Board of Elections yesterday asked the state Supreme Court to delay enforcement of a Superior Court decision mandating that hundreds of ballots be segregated and photocopied during machine recounts.

On Tuesday, Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr. ruled that ballots that do not register a vote during a recount be photocopied to potentially allow a manual examination to determine if the voter's intent can be learned.

The Board of Elections strongly objected, saying the removal of ballots for photocopying would slow recounts, increase mistakes and facilitate a manual review process that would mirror the tortured presidential election recount in 2000.

The recounts yet to be finalized involve Allan Fung in Cranston, Joseph Larisa in East Providence as well as local races in East Greenwich, Portsmouth and Tiverton.

My question is this: Is the BOE objecting to specific procedures that have been laid out by the Judge, or are they objecting to ever letting anyone from outside of the BOE see the ballots? If the objection is the more general one, then my second question is what good is it to keep a paper-audit trail if you are never going to let anyone from outside see it?

(Also, a minor digression: I wonder if Judge Fortunato had an opportunity to extol the virtues of Marxism to the judges from Russia who paid a visit to the Rhode Island courts earlier this week?)

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great points, andrew.

to add to your post, according to state law, paper ballots are stored at local town halls under lock and key for 22 months after results have been certified. Yes, 22 months. What are they doing there if not to provide a check against machine counts?

two additional thoughts:

1. in light of the problems we have seen with diebold machines, i think it's only prudent that individuals outside of the BOE are given access to the paper ballots. paper ballots are after all anonymous, and as far as i can tell are public records.

2. rhode island saw an above-average voter turnout this past election with approximately 380,000 people going to the polls. 380,000 people. The Bronx had almost the same vote total in the 2004 elections. if there is any state where it would be manageable to verify the all-knowing machines, it's rhode island.

Posted by: johnb at November 17, 2006 10:57 AM

1.) What is the B.O.E. afraid of here?

2.) Under no circumstance should we "upgrade" our current voting method to Diebold (paperless) machines.

Dead and duplicate voters. "Jammed" voting machines in John Harwood's district a couple of elections ago. Diebold's programmable chips will be as irresistable as an open box of chocolates to some people.

Posted by: SusanD at November 17, 2006 9:06 PM

1. Public access to ballots is already provided depending on what you qualify as "access". Do you mean you want the public unlimited access to handle ballots as they see fit? State law requires voted ballots be sealed for 22 months. They can only be unsealed by a court or the Board of Elections for a recount. During a recount, the public is invited to attend. The process is open. Usually a dozen or so machines are used. Although the public is not allowed to touch or handle ballots as they are re-fed into the machines, they are able to observe the votes on the ballots as they are entered. Technically, observers could keep a tally of their own if they question the machines' accuracy.

2. What is the BOE afraid of? RI purchased these machines to increase the integrity and accuracy of its elections. These machines are designed to read a specific mark (connecting the head and tail of the arrow). State law requires this connection for a vote to be counted. Counting underlined or circled names would encourage voters to mark their ballots incorrectly and in a manner in which the machine cannot recognize. It would be akin to you going to take your SATs or LSATS and indicating your answers by marking outside the oval next to your choice. You'd flunk. In a statewide recount, imagine the debacle of looking through over a million ballots for ballots of voters who marked their ballots incorrectly and not in accordance with state law. All they have to do is follow the instructions on the ballot, in the booth, on the privacy sleeve, on the posters in the poll, and in the Voter Information Handbook, among countless other sources.

3. Diebold is only one of several companies which produces DRE voting machines. ES&S, the company which manufactures Rhode Island's optical scan equipment also has a DRE called iVotronic. Sequoia Voting Systems also has a DRE.

4. There are various federal laws restricting removal of voters fro the rolls. In RI, death certificates are not public. As far as duplicates, most are due to voter error. If the voter doesn't indicate a previous name or address on the voter registration form, this make it more likely to have a duplicate because the previous registration cannot be located and canceled.

5. And finally, the "jammed" voting machine in Pawtucket was actually a pollworker who mistakingly inserted a voter turnout log form into the machine at the close of the poll. This was not a ballot but a regular 8.5 X 11 piece of paper with a staple. It wasn't supposed to go into the machine but did and jammed it. A moot point since the ballots were still there for counting.

Posted by: Knowledgeable at November 20, 2006 12:50 PM
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