Video: Touch-screen voting machines in Illinois lean Dem?

Color me a bit skeptical, but there’s a bigger story in here anyway. The effort to modernize the American electoral system after the dispute in Florida in 2000 included an emphasis on new technology, especially touch-screen voting, which supposedly would make voter confusion obsolete. After all, what could be easier than simply pointing to your favored candidate to cast your vote? As anyone who owns a smartphone and sends text messages knows, it’s not that simple — and a calibration issue in Illinois has started finger-pointing of an entirely different kind:

Republican Bobby Schilling’s spokesman Jon Schweppe said he heard from 20 voters last week who tried to vote for a Republican when the Democratic choice was selected on the machine’s touch screen. Schilling is running against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.

“This isn’t about Republican or Democrat,” Schweppe said. “Everybody’s vote matters and that we have confidence in the process.”

Schweppe said upon hearing the complaints from voters, he reached out to the Illinois State Board of Elections about the machines in Kinney’s office and the state board recommended on Friday that Kinney recalibrate her machines. …

Kinney did recalibrate her machines on Friday, she said.

Kinney said some of the problems with the machines could actually be “human error.” She said a woman  complained after her vote for Neil Anderson, a Republican for Illinois state Senate, was switched to the Democratic incumbent Mike Jacobs. Kinney said the female voter had three-inch long fingernails.

The complaints started last week, as KWQC reported on Friday:

News and Weather For The Quad Cities –

Republican candidate Bobby Schilling says some of the votes that are changing are going from him to his opponent Cheri Bustos.

“Two nights ago, I took a call from a supporter of mine who said that his mother-in-law had gone to the library to vote and that every time that she went to push my name that it automatically bounced up to my opponents name,” Schilling said. “I thought, well, maybe she mixed up, she’s an older gal, but come to find out in the last two days i’ve taken 17 calls of people saying the exact same thing.”

“It’s wide spread throughout Rock Island County. It’s even happening here at the courthouse and the big thing that we are looking for you now is we want to make sure that our votes count. Our votes matter.” …

Just yesterday, Republican State Representative candidate Jim Moynihan tweeted that when he tried to vote for himself in Cook County, the machine changed his vote to his Democratic opponent.

Michael Warren picked up the story at the Weekly Standard today, noting that several complaints had come to light. He also found this video that demonstrates the issue, according to two younger voters, who used the machines after Kinney recalibrated them:

There seems to be some issue in this demonstration, but how significant is this really? The finger seems to be hitting between the two check boxes rather than directly on the one for the Republican candidate in both demonstrations. The voters who recorded the video were able to correct the tabulation themselves, as Michael notes:

Eventually, both voters were able to vote for the Republican candidates, as they say they preferred. They said the screen appeared to be poorly calibrated, so that while pressing anywhere in the box for a Democrat registered a vote for the Democrat, only pressing the bottom half of the Republican box did so for the Republican. The only way to make the correct vote, they said, was to press the incorrectly checked box to “uncheck” it, then press low in the Republican’s box. The voters say they were able to figure this out without calling over an election judge for help.

So it seems that this was a calibration problem with the touch screen, but not exactly an insurmountable obstacle. Voters have multiple opportunities to review their choices before submitting their ballot, and have at least the option of asking for assistance from an election judge. Just as with the butterfly ballots in Florida (which were the same as I used for years in California without any difficulty), voters just have to be sure that they have recorded their votes properly before submitting their ballots.

What this does demonstrate, though, is that the answer to a problem is not always more technology. Optical-scan ballots allow voters to mark a physical ballot directly, which produces an instant paper record for later recounts when necessary. Voting machines can check to make sure that the ballots can be properly read before accepting them, and there is no machine to “change” the vote cast to another candidate during the ballot-marking process itself. People can screw up optical scan ballots, to be sure (as we know all too well in Minnesota), but it’s the system that gives voters the most control over the ballot while making the counting process more efficient and accurate, as well as having a reliable paper record later. The touch-screen technology needlessly adds complications to the voting process and creates more suspicion and mistrust than it resolves. Illinois, and other states that rushed to adopt the most “modern” of voting technology, should seriously consider switching away from touch-screen voting entirely.