Chester County Voter Services

6 Weeks Until the General Election, Did Chester County Voter Services ‘Fix’ their Malfunctioning Voting Machines?

In 6 weeks, the voters of Chester County will go to the polls for the General Election.  Looking back to the Primary Election on May 17, do we have assurance from the Chester County Voter Services that there will be no repeat performance of malfunctioning voting machines?

Chester County Voter Services found irregularities in vote counts in over 100 precincts in Chester County due to equipment malfunctions.  But here in Tredyffrin Township, the outcome of the Special Election was dramatically affected by the malfunctioning machines.  If you recall, on election night, the results posted on the Chester County Voter Services website indicated that Molly Duffy (D) had a 44-vote lead over Mike Heaberg (R).  However, as irregularities in the Tredyffrin precinct counts emerged, a full manual recount was required.  It was discovered that 62 ballots were not counted by the voting machines. Adding to the mystery, was the discovery that all 62 uncounted ballots were Republican ballots.  In the final hand count, Heaberg emerged as the winner by a 2-vote margin.  Duffy and Heaberg, along with legal representation attended the manual recount and agreed to the reconciliation results.

But ‘why’ did the voting machines malfunction in the first place?  Do we as voters have an assurance that the problem has been corrected?  Is their confidence that our vote really will count on Election Day?

A follow-up report from Chester County Voter Services was published Friday, September 23 on their website.  However, it is interesting to note that the report is dated two months earlier — July 14, 2011.  Since the report is ‘To the Public’, wonder why it took so long for it to be ‘public’.

Chester County Voter Services conducted extensive testing. According to their findings, “It was discovered through our testing of those printed Republican Ballots that a dark blue “color bar” was printed outside the specified area on those ballots. Samples of these ballots were eventually sent to Election Systems & Software, Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama to review the specifications of the ballots printed by Dayton Legal Blank. ES&S was able to determine that the color bar printed on the Republican Ballots was printed outside the specified area on the ballot for any ES&S M-100 tabulator to properly function”.

The report further states “. . . the printed dark blue color bar printed on the Republican Ballots was the sole cause for the M-1000 to not read these invalidly printed Republican Ballots.”

In their closing remarks, the report from Chester County Voter Services states, “we will ensure that we maintain our electronic equipment on a routine yearly schedule and we will ensure our Primary Election ballots are printed in conformance with the ES&S ‘Color Stripe Specification’ ”

So we officially know ‘why’ the voting machines malfunctioned for the Primary Election – an alignment printing issue.

Voter Services promises that they will maintain the equipment on a yearly schedule.  I would feel more confident in the system if there was a degree of responsibility; plus assurance that they will run ‘test ballots’ through the voting machines prior to November’s General Election.

Elections are important and all votes count!  The ‘every vote counts’ importance was brought home to Tredyffrin voters in the Special Election race between Molly Duffy and Mike Heaberg where the winner was decided by 2 votes!

Mark your calendars for November 8 and plan on having your voice heard through your vote in the General Election.

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Steve Shapiro, Judge of Elections for Tredyffrin’s W-2 Precinct, Offers Step-by-Step Guide to Voting Procedures

To help us better understand our voting procedure, Steve Shapiro, the Judge of Elections for the W-2 precinct, has graciously provided us detailed notes below.  Steve’s explanation offers us the step-by-step guide to the voting procedure and to the close out at the end of an election day.  As I read his notes, it is clear that Steve takes extra steps to protect the voting system process and to insure the quality and accuracy of election results.  I know that all that read Community Matters, join me in thanking Steve for his thorough explanation . . . a great community service.  Thanks Steve!

Steve Shapiro
Judge of Elections
W-2 Precinct, Tredyffrin Township

Here is an overview of the voting process and the end-of-night procedures:

Before we open the polls, we set up the paper ballot scanner (the M-100) and the electronic machine (the iVotronic). We print out a tape from each showing that no votes have been cast on either machine.

During voting hours, we look up each voter in the Poll Books. If we find them, we have them sign the Poll Book. We also record their name in a different book, called the “Numbered List of Voters Book,” which contains a separate numbered line for each voter. The Numbered List of Voters Book allows us to easily determine, at the end of the day, how many voters signed-in and received a ballot (either paper or electronic). If a voter chooses to vote on a paper ballot, we record the number of the ballot next to his or her name in both the Poll Book and the Numbered List of Voters Book. If the voter chooses to vote electronically, we so indicate in both books. Here a sample of the Numbered List of Voters Book from our poll worker manual, click here.

After a paper ballot voter makes his or her selections, he or she takes the completed ballot to the M-100. An election worker removes the strip at the bottom of the ballot that contains the ballot number, and gives it to the voter as receipt. Now that the ballot number has been removed, the ballot becomes anonymous (it cannot be traced back to the voter) and the voter places the ballot into the machine.

If there are no problems with the ballot, the M-100 processes it and drops the ballot into a locked compartment for safe-keeping. If there are any errors on the ballot that prevent the scanner from reading it, the M-100 displays an error message and returns the ballot (at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do). If there are any over-votes on the ballot (for instance, a voter votes for 3 candidates in a race where he only may vote for 2), the M-100 will display an error message and ask the voter whether he wants to either accept the ballot as-is (thereby invalidating the vote in the race in which he over-voted) or take the ballot back and correct it. Here is the summary of the possible M-100 scanner errors from the poll worker manual – click here.

If a paper ballot voter makes a mistake and needs to correct his or her ballot, we issue a new ballot, change the ballot number for that voter in both the Poll Book and the Numbered List of Voters Book, and keep the spoiled ballot so we can account for it when we close the polls.

An electronic voter makes his selections on the iVotronic’s touchscreen and presses the “Vote” button when he or she is done. The iVotronic will not let a voter over-vote or otherwise mess up his ballot, so we never have to deal with spoiled electronic ballots.

At the end of the night, the first thing we do it process the absentee ballots. The County delivers absentee ballots to us in sealed envelopes with the voter’s signature on the outside of the envelope. We first check the Poll Books to make sure that the voter did not vote in person and that the signature on the envelope matches the signature in the Poll Book. If everything checks out, we open the outer envelope, and remove the sealed inner envelope that contains the ballot. We then mix up the sealed inner envelopes to anonymise them before opening them, removing the ballots and scanning them into the M-100.

Next, we close the voting machines. For the iVotronic, all that entails is a few presses on the touchscreen to lock down the voting function on the machine. We then print off a closing tape that shows the total ballots cast and the number of votes each candidate received. The tape shows only totals — it does not show how each voter voted. We also remove the data card on which the votes are electronically recorded.

The M-100 requires more effort. First, we print out a tape that shows the total ballots cast and the number of votes each candidate received. Then we remove the data card on which the votes are electronically recorded. Next, we open the machine and remove the ballots. The M-100 deposits any ballots with write-in votes into a different compartment. We review those ballots and hand-write the write-in votes onto a tally sheet. We then add the ballots with write-in votes to the rest of the ballots and count all of them by hand to see how many ballots we have (in a primary we have the added step of separating the ballots by party before we count them).

Once the hand count is completed, we fill in a “General Returns of Votes Cast” form. Here is a link to a sample General Return from the poll worker manual:

The form is basically a worksheet that allows us to ascertain whether we have accounted for all of the paper ballots. We add up the number of paper ballots cast, the number of spoiled ballots and the number of left-over ballots. That sum should equal the number the ballots the County delivered to us at the beginning of the day. We also add the number of paper ballots cast to the number of electronic ballots cast to come up with the total number of ballots cast. If, during this process, the numbers do not add up, you are supposed to flag that for Voter Services by writing a note in the “Remarks” box on the General Return.

At this point, it is my practice to check the total number of ballots cast on the General Return against the following to make sure they jive: (1) the number of voters listed in the Numbered List of Voters Book; and (2) the number of ballots cast as reported on the machine tapes. That is how we discovered the problem last week — the number of ballots cast on the General Return did not match the number of ballots cast on the tapes. I concede that neither the General Return nor the poll worker instructions direct us to make that comparison (maybe it should), but it seems like common sense to me. In addition, all poll workers take an oath before we open the polls, and I believe that checking all of the numbers for discrepancies is consistent with the part of the oath in which I swear to faithfully perform my duties to the best of my judgment and ability. A copy of the oath from the poll worker manual is here.

After we discovered the problem last Tuesday, we made a note in the remarks box on the General Return. I also emailed Voter Services and copied a representative of each party (that is not required, but it seemed like good practice).

As for the poll workers’ signatures, even if the numbers on the General Return do not add up and we leave a note for Voter Services, we still have to sign the General Return. So we are not certifying that the numbers are correct; rather we are saying that the reported numbers are what we counted. Likewise, although we have to sign the tapes from the machines, we are are not certifying that the numbers on the tape are accurate. We could not possibly know, for instance, whether the M-100 scanned the votes properly. Rather, by signing the tapes we are saying that these are the tapes we printed from the machines.

Finally, we place the General Return and the data cards into a small pouch, which we seal with a security tab. We place the paper ballots into a large pouch, which we also seal with a security tab. We then drive both pouches, along with all of the other election supplies, to Voter Services in West Chester. The unofficial results you see on election night are taken, I think, from the data cards (the tapes are just a print out of the information on the data cards).

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Although the Dark End of the World Predictions Failed, There’s Light for Tredyffrin’s Special Election

If you are reading this, the end of the world predictions failed to pan out for Harold Camping.  The religious broadcaster made the world’s biggest mistake, twice.  Camping got the date wrong in 1994 when he said the world would end that year, and later explained its continued existence by saying he had made a mathematical error.

However, the May 21, 2011 prediction was different; Camping and his followers lavishly spent more than $100 million on billboards and radio advertising.  Now Camping is left shaking his head, bewildered, that things did not go according to his prediction and the world did not end at 6 PM on May 21.  With no Plan B in place, Camping may be forced to find some obscure, overlooked translation or an error in his math and then move the apocalypse date to a new date.

To follow up on last week’s special election in Tredyffrin, by the time you read this, there may be further news.  It is my understanding that at 9 AM this morning (Monday), the two at-large supervisor candidates, Democrat Molly Duffy and Republican Mike Heaberg are meeting with Chester County voter service representatives. (The special election determined who would fill the vacated seat of Warren Kampf until January 2012).  Also in attendance for the voter services meeting will be a representative from the local Democratic and Republican parties.  Additionally, Duffy and Heaberg will each have an attorney present.  Voter services will be conducting a hand count of the votes from the special election with Duffy, Heaberg and others in attendance. 

I am not clear if voter services is hand counting the votes from all 17 precincts or only the precincts where is evidence of voting machine malfunctions.  As it now stands, the unofficial vote count from last week’s special election indicates 2,266 votes for Duffy and 2,226 votes for Heaberg, a difference of 40 votes.  The public needs to know that the total count in the special election is accurate and that all votes were counted, but . . . we as a community need to get to the other side of this issue and accept he voter services hand counting today.

Tonight is the Board of Supervisors meeting . . . will supervisor Heaberg remain on the dais as a member of the Board of Supervisors or, if the hand count with voter services supports the unofficial results that Duffy is the winner, will she take her seat as a supervisor?  Originally, all indications were that the official results from the special election would be official and certified in 4-6 weeks.  However, the special election hand counting is taking precedent over voter services handling of the primary election results; perhaps there will be an official vote count released today. Stay tuned.

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