Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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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  1. Hi Patty,

    I’m not sure the report addresses the problem. If this is really how things happened:

    “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. ”

    Isn’t the real question “Why weren’t poll workers aware, at the moment the ballot was rejected by the scanner, that there was a problem?”

    Was this really a silent rejection of the form by the ESS machines?

    Wouldn’t any reasonable voting process ensure that a person’s vote is counted while they are still there so that, if need be, they can fill out a new form or even (heaven forbid) vote using a pen and a piece of paper?

    1. There were extensive, detailed posts here about the problem back in May (just run a search for my name) but, to answer your question, the scanners accepted the ballots, but did not count them. When we tried at the end of the night to reconcile the number of ballots inside the scanners to the number of ballots that the scanners said had been cast, the numbers did not match.

      Pattye: Great catch finding this report — I had no idea it had been issued. You would think the County would have at least let us Judges of Elections know so we could answer any voter questions in November.

  2. The report places the blame on a ballot printing error, but the County is overlooking what I view as an additional problem. The scanners should be programmed to reject and return any “invalidly printed” ballot. Had the scanners rejected problem ballots that were inserted “face up end first,” we never would have had this problem. So, yes, the ballots may have been printed incorrectly, but proper programming would have provided an additional fail-safe that would have avoided the problem.

    1. Yes. This is exactly right. This is the real problem with the machine and why “fixing the printed form” is not a solution at all.

      In Chester County, at least in my precinct, the machine tells you, at the moment of scanning, how many individual votes on your sheet were accepted. If that doesn’t correspond with what you actually marked, you get to try again.

      Since the poll workers know how many votes should be registered by the scanner, they can, and do, point out to the voter when something seems amiss.

      1. The scanner is programmed to do the following:

        If you over-vote (vote for more candidates for an office than permitted), the scanner displays an error message and gives you the option to: (a) return the ballot and exchange it for a new one; or (b) accept the ballot as-is, thereby invalidating your vote in any office in which you over-voted.

        If you under-vote (do not vote for all of the offices or for the maximum number of candidates in any given office), the scanner assumes you intended to do that and accepts your ballot without any kind of message. It used to be that the scanner displayed an error message pointing out the under-vote. However, the County disabled that feature a few elections ago because so many people were purposefully under-voting (for example, in the judicial retention elections) that displaying the error message was causing significant delays in processing voters.

        If you insert a blank ballot, the machine displays an error message and gives you the option to: (a) return the ballot; or (b) accept the ballot (for those who are casting a “protest” vote by showing up but refusing to vote for any candidate).

        If you mark the ballot in a way that the scanner cannot read (for example, you mark with Xs instead of filling in the oval) or if you otherwise put extraneous marks on the ballot, the scanner displays an error message and returns the ballot.

        For whatever reason, the scanners are not programmed to reject “improperly printed” ballots and, during the last election, just accepted them without counting the votes on them. Perhaps the County never envisioned this problem and, therefore, did not even think to program for it. But now that we know about the issue, the County should program the scanners to make sure it does not happen again.

  3. One more thought: The “invalidly printed” ballots led to a recount and testing of the scanners, all of which must have run up expenses for the County. Is the County seeking reimbursement of those taxpayer funds from the company that messed up the printing job?

    1. Good point Steve. What were the associated costs attributed to the machines malfunction. If the printing company is responsible, shouldn’t they bear some of the related costs? I’d feel more comfortable about the General Election coming up if this report had contained some real ‘assurance’ that the problem is absolutely fixed and that there will be ‘ballot testing’ on all machines prior to the election. I understand that Voter Services conducts yearly maintenance but based on what happened for the Primary Election, I still think a dry run a week before the voting machines are used should be part of the process. I know, I know — it would cost too much money!

  4. At my precinct, I have submitted a ballot that had one or more matters in respect of which I chose not to cast a vote. I had the experience described by Richard above: the poll volunteer pointed out that only X votes were scanned out of a total of Y (the machine so indicated). I was asked to confirm whether that was my intention, and I appreciated being informed that I might have made an error. That was a nice feature that gave me confidence in the machine (whether or not well placed!)

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