Post-election review checks accuracy of voting machines

November 16, 2006

Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer

A test of Beltrami Countys voting integrity on Thursday found a single glitch, one easily explained and which raised no red flags.

Not only am I happy with the outcome, but this was also an opportunity to test the system and build public trust, Beltrami County Auditor-Treasurer Kay Mack said after the nearly two-hour post-election review.

Under a new state law, counties are to randomly select at least two precincts " at least one with more than 150 voters " to hand count ballots in a test of accuracy against the optical scan machine tabulation on Election Day.

Selected for Beltrami County were Jones Township, with 138 registered voters as of 7 a.m. Election Day and Hines Township, with 421 registered voters. On Election Day, there were 112 votes cast in Jones and 311 in Hines.

Under the supervision of county election officials Mack and Assistant Auditor Becky Murphy, sealed ballot bags were opened and the ballots counted by Betty Johnson and Marlys Eckman.

Observing the process was another county employee, Karen Haugen, and Jan Hogle, a Bemidji State University instructor who just moved here for the fall semester from Washington County. Both are volunteers with Citizens for Election Integrity-Minnesota, which pushed the new state law last spring.

They followed along, filling out a checklist which will be submitted to Citizens for Election Integrity as part of a report on the accuracy of Minnesotas voting systems.

According to the new law, hand counts in the two selected precincts were to include votes for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and governor.

Only one glitch surfaced, that in counting U.S. House 8th District votes in Hines Township. Election night tallies showed DFL incumbent Rep. Jim Oberstar with 138 votes but Thursdays recount gave him 139. But the undervotes " votes not counted because they were blank or unreadable " dropped from 10 to nine.

We could see an undervote as a scratch that the machine didnt count, Mack said.

That happened to be the case, as Johnson and Eckman found the troubling ballot and noted a really light mark through Oberstars oval, one that the machine most likely didnt see. An earlier count for U.S. Senate showed a darker mark on that ballot for DFLer Amy Klobuchar which the machine apparently did read. Mack anticipated a light mark for DFL gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch might be an undervote, but that count showed no discrepancies.

In another case, the machine registered an overvote in Hines Townships governor tallies, and an inspection of the ballot showed why. An overvote indicates the voter invalidated that race by marking two or more candidates in the same race.

In this case, the voter filled in an oval for one governors candidate, crossed it out and filled in another oval.

When the voter put the ballot into the optical scan, the machine would have beeped with the overvote and the voter could have claimed a spoiled ballot and voted again, Murphy said. But in this case, they overrode the alarm and cast their ballot anyway.

Good job, Haugen said to Johnson and Eckman as the final tallies were made.

Haugens and Hogles checklist included such things as on-site supervision provided during the count, noticing that the ballot bags were indeed sealed before opening and comparing machine tapes to ballots, Haugen said.

Were just here to watch the process, she said. We dont anticipate any problems.

We were told in our training not to worry about the next step unless we need to take it, Hogle said.

That step wasnt needed for Beltrami County. According to the new law, if the hand count had varied by more than 0.5 percent from the machine tally, or 5 votes per 1,000 votes for each election counted, then the county would have had to select a minimum of three more precincts to be reviewed.

We formed shortly after the 2004 election. We were troubled by reports of electronic voting problems, the disenfranchisement of minority voters, discarded ballots and other voting irregularities, according to Citizens for Election Integrity-Minnesotas Web site. Our initial focus was supporting the Ohio recount to which we sent nine observers from Minnesota.

The groups primary purpose is to ensure that votes are counted accurately, it said. We educate citizens about our election system, publicize concerns about voting technology, encourage citizen participation in the election process and lobby our government officials to support election reform.

Part of the groups goals, as part of a national voting rights movement, is to call for verified paper ballots as the legal ballot of record in all elections and for the random hand count of ballots as part of routine audits.

The more we can do to build peoples trust, the better, said Mack.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this nformation for non-profit research and educational purposes only. Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article, nor is Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota endorsed or sponsored by the originator.