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Tales from the Polls

Three year ago, Johns Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin shook up Maryland with a report decrying security failures in the brand new electronic voting machines the state had purchased from Diebold Elections Systems.

Last week, Rubin admits in his recounting of the day he was a little shaken up by what he saw at the polls: He was an elections judge in Baltimore County. In a precinct a half mile from his house, he witnessed glitches polling books that wouldn't reflect when a voter had cast a ballot to machines plugged into a dead outlet.

Not surprisingly, the computer whiz became the point man for computer problems throughout the day. At the end of the day, Rubin had praise for his fellow poll workers but doubts about the results of the work they all did.

"I hope that we got it right in my precinct, but I know that there is no way to know for sure. We cannot do recounts."

Today, in Montgomery County, election officials continue to count the 10,000 to 12,000 provisional ballots cast there, in large part because of human error, not computer problems. Workers counted fewer than 1,000 yesterday, but hope to pick up the pace today.

Donna Edwards, whose race against U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) could hinge on ballots in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, watched ysterday's counting and said it seemed to be going smoothly and fairly. Still, she said, the scene reminded her of the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida.

"It's really frightening that here we are in 2006, and we've yet to get to the point where we have an elections process that we can have confidence in," she said.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  September 19, 2006; 9:53 AM ET
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The problem with the provisional ballots was a problem of the election officials' own making. When they discovered that the magnetic plastic data cards had not been delivered to the precincts at 6:a.m. they did not treat the situation like the emergency it was. They had to delliver the cards to 240 precincts in 60 minutes or about one delivery each l5 seconds. They did not apparently call the county executive, they did not call the police who have emergency vehicles; they continued on a task themselves of delivering the cards when they knew they could not possibly make all the deliveries in time and when they knew there would be tens of thousands of early voters. The only name for their sleepy reaction when they discovered the task and the time they had to complete it was, "Public Be Damned." Look at the lengths to which this country has gone so that the people of Iraq can vote. Then look what took place in Rockville.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Independent for Montgomery County Executive | September 19, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

"Still, she said, the scene reminded her of the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida."

She's probably one of those who believe there's still a way to count the Florida ballots in such a way as to show that Al Gore would win! These folks also believe in unicorns, I might add.

Posted by: Rufus | September 19, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse


Regardless of who won that election, everyone agrees that it was an absolute mess that compromised the integrity of the electoral process.

This has nothing to do with recounts or hanging chads.

But I suppose you don't care about the integrity of elections so long as your side wins.

Posted by: Anti-Rufus | September 19, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Let's remember that nobody won the 200 election.

Not democracy. Not the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Not the torture victims.

Bin Laden and Haliburton have been the only winners.

Rufus is probably smiling at all the victories and accomplished missions.

Posted by: Nobody Won | September 19, 2006 1:08 PM | Report abuse

I didn't have to use a provisional ballot, so I don't know this for a fact, but I thought I heard that these were scannable forms. Why do they have to be counted by hand? Granted, not many have reliance in the computer systems.

Posted by: MR in MC | September 19, 2006 1:32 PM | Report abuse

MR in MC,

To answer your question, the reason a provisional ballot must be reviewed is because it is "provisional" and is not automatically added into the electoral vote tally until the local board of elections approves it. The poll judges are supposed to mark on the ballot the reasons for why that voter needed to fill out a provisional ballot...such as the citizen was unsure which was their proper polling location or that they were not sure of their registration status, etc.

Once the elections board receives the ballot, they then determine if the reasons indicated by the poll judge were sufficient to count the ballot or reject it. I am not an expert, but I suspect, that a prov. ballot cast by voter confused as to their polling location will likely be accepted (provided that the voter isn't so way off that they are in a completely wrong jurisdiction or district), but the ballot of a completely unregistered citizen will be rejected as having never should have been cast.

That is my understanding of provisional balloting.

Posted by: Baltimore Voter | September 19, 2006 1:54 PM | Report abuse

How come no one blamed Bush? After all these are local elections, local democratic officials, and local issues. He must have had something to do with it.

Posted by: Steve | September 19, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I've been an election judge in Fairfax County, I've also been a poll watcher in Fairfax County, I was an observer of the recount for Attorney General in Virginia, and I've run polls where the votes on paper ballots were scanned by optical readers.
Let's start with the optical readers. Just as we learned that the SAT tests that were scored by optical readers had a few problems with scoring the answers correctly, so did I discover that optical scanners have a hard time reading ballots, especially when voters don't fill in the circles precisely. For the voting on paper ballots, we ended up tallying the ballots by hand, after multiple runs of the ballots through optical scanners gave different counts each time.
When I was an observer of the recount, there were 39 votes cast on paper ballots in one precinct because two precincts voted at the same location and both precincts had turned on their Winvote machines at the same time, which is a no-no, for reasons to lengthy to go into here. Consequently, one precinct had to use paper ballots until the machines in their precinct could be reset. Of those 39 ballots, some people voted by circling the name, some put check marks, and a few actually filled in the circle next to the name completely, as they were instructed. The election crew for that precinct had counted the votes on the thirty-nine ballots incorrectly -- the Republican was credited with one fewer vote than the should have received. So, with the paper ballots, if they had been read by optical scanner, many of the votes, which were obvious to a human eye, would have been missed by a mechanical eye, and the humans didn't tally the votes correctly.
My concern is the number of people who left without voting. They were really disenfranchised.

Posted by: NoVA | September 19, 2006 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Florida 2000 was about incompetence at the local election levels and about the Gore team invalidating absentee ballots from military voters.

George W. Bush won the 2000 election and so did the American people because Algore would have probably surrendered on September 12.

And we did find those 100,000 mass graves that Clinton said were in Kosovo, only we found them in Iraq full of Saddam's victims. But you clearly don't care about those victims, huh?

Yes, Democracy won! As did the Iraqi people who shed living under a tyrant.

Are you serious labelling the Abu Ghraib incidents as torture? How pathetic! I dare you to compare those photos to the ones of Saddam's torture victims. I double dare you!

Posted by: Rufus | September 19, 2006 2:24 PM | Report abuse

First off, lets get some terms straight here. If we are talking about the votes that counted, George Bush won an undemocratic republican (rule by representative, i.e. electoral college) victory but he didn't win a democratic (rule of the many) election, because he didn't win the popular vote! Second, I can concede that Bush did win the counted votes in Florida, but it is no secret that the majority of the people in Florida that came out to vote in 2000, wanted Al Gore to be president. In South Florida, there were over 20,000 invalid ballots cast because the overwhelmingly Democratic-voting minorities have high rates of error on filling out their ballots. So if we consider the spirit of the electorate, they clearly preferred Al Gore to George Bush.

Now, I don't think anyone can truly argue that we were all losers in that 2000 elections. George W. Bush will go down in history as the worst President in American History. Lets look at his resume, Iraq War, nothing in Iraq is better than it was before the war. Not electricity, not the sewege system, not oil production, not schools, not hospitals, not the economy, not the nonexistent civil discourse, and definately not each citizens' personal safety. And yeah, the Kurdish and Shiite areas are fine, but they were fine when Saddam was there, they were pretty much autonomous, yes they lived under the threat of Saddam, but you don't think all Iraqis are worried that what's happening in Anbar province is going to come their way, particular with high ranking members from every group in the puppet democratic government. And this is all Bush's fault because this was an elective war, even if it was just a question of when, Bush chose then and either it was the wrong time or he chose the wrong war.

Bush has Katrina, and whether it happened because of inept local and state officials, the reconstruction (and he can't blame it on insurgents) since the crisis has abated has been a failure. The promises Bush made, have not been met, by any stretch of the imagination, and the bureaucracy hasn't gotten any better.

The economy, Bush has encouraged Americans to mortgage their future away in order to maintain outrages consumption levels. Incomes are stagnant and people have resorted to raiding their equity to maintain current spending levels. This is unsustainable even to a 12 year old. And George Bush should be impeached simply for bringing the US closer to indenture servitude to China with the huge debts he's running up cuz he and his Repub Congress can't control their own pork barrel spending and he as C'mon-der-In-Chief has fought two very expensive wars on the cheap where the bulk of the spending comes after the wars are supposedly done. State and local governments have done the same, keeping substantial amounts of money in reserve to maintain their debts, and that is why the credit agencies keep raising their bond ratings, not because they actually are being financially responsible.

I could go on and on, talking about Osama bin Ladin, No Child Left Behind, which is forcing kids to simply be educated to pass the standardized test, Homeland Security, the future of America's military dominance after they have been stretched to the breaking point in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia's anti-democratic reforms, illegal immigration, all of these are all critical questions for America's future and Bush is out clearing brush in Texas and not muscling his Repub Congress except for the horrendous Medicare Part D and tax cuts that drain the Treasury but America will realize the full weight of how George W. Bush is destroying America from within as soon as we can get a Congress with the marbles to use their subpoena power and put the official weight behind their criticisms. If things aren't too far gone to be salvaged, Americans will look back on the turn of this century, and I hope we will be able to laugh at it like we laugh at Herbert Hoover and Grover Cleveland. I pray that we can.

Posted by: RCD | September 19, 2006 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The is a web site on how to crack a diebold machine.
Search gizmodo dot com for gadgets steal election diebold

Posted by: Ed | September 19, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Um, I agree with Robin Ficker.

Posted by: A first | September 19, 2006 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Dear "A First": you've taken the first and most difficult step, which is recognizing you have a serious problem. Luckily there are several self-help groups that can aid you in overcoming this awful affliction.

Posted by: Pepe le moco | September 19, 2006 11:55 PM | Report abuse

"...George Bush won an undemocratic republican (rule by representative, i.e. electoral college) victory but he didn't win a democratic (rule of the many) election, because he didn't win the popular vote!"

In other words, he was elected President by the American electoral process. We call such men Presidents.

Posted by: Rufus | September 20, 2006 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Ever wonder who is at fault for the mess in Montgomery County and across Maryland:

Posted by: Allison | September 20, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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