Minor Voting Irregularities

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have fairly simple paper ballot voting machines (rather than electronic touch-screen voting machines, see, e.g. Ed Felten’s comprehensive critiques of electronic voting). When I voted this morning, however, the machines were not feeding the ballots. Instead, the poll workers were piling the ballots up on top of the machines, apparently to be fed into the machines when they figured out how to get them to work. When I left (about 90 minutes after the polls opened), they had gotten to the point of triple-checking whether the machine was plugged in.

I felt a bit uneasy leaving my secret ballot in a big open pile. It was somewhat reassuring that a police officer seemed to be in charge of watching the ballots, but I still will always have a slight reservation as to whether or not my vote was actually counted.

Don’t they get to work early to test the machines? Perhaps do a few dry runs, kick the tires, etc.? Other industries seem to have figured out most of these problems a long time ago — for example, I can’t remember a single instance in my entire life of encountering a paper jam (cash or receipt) with an ATM. (I’m sure it does happen, just rarely enough that it’s never effected me). If a system is mission critical, it should be possible to get the failure rate down to something more acceptable.


  1. jldugger Jan 28

    Interestingly, Diebold makes both voting machines and ATMs. Perhaps they need more cross training events (I imagine they bought another company that made voting machines, rather than divert engineers from ATMS to a new product).

  2. todd Jan 28

    They are not allowed to leave ballots out in the open. There’s a slot in the front (or is it the side?) of the box where they are supposed to put ballots that cannot be read for any reason. The cop will only be there until he decides to go get coffee. When I worked the polls, the cop was only there for about two hours. I have no idea where he went. But in *no case whatever* is the ballot to leave your hands without being put where it’s supposed to be.

  3. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    Todd: makes sense. Someone should explain that to the poll workers in Roslindale. Based on what I gather from preliminary news reports, these sorts of problems are only the tip of the iceberg compared to what is happening elsewhere in the country.

  4. Adam Jan 28

    Where was this polling place in roslindale?

  5. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    Greek Church/Cultural Center at Belgrade and Roberts.

  6. UG Jan 28

    The machine in my polling place in Lynn workded fine. My objection was having to carry the two-sided ballot across the room from the booth to the ballot box with many people milling about and able to see my selections. Not that I’m embarassed that I wrote myself in for every office!

  7. Adam Rosi-Kessel Jan 28

    The double-sided thing bothered me as well. Everyone was holding their ballots in an awkward half-folded way to attempt to preserve privacy. They would have had to provide three (rather than two) pages of ballots to keep them all one-sided, and I guess they decided not to spring for the extra paper.

  8. todd Jan 28

    re: two sided ballots.

    There are “covers” that you can put your ballot into. They’re a sort of “privacy sleeve” that leaves enough of the the top of the ballot exposed for the reader machine to grab the ballot before it’s pulled in to be read.

    The poll workers are supposed to offer them to you, but, at least when I worked there, 99-44/100% of the people didn’t want them, so we just sort of stopped, and left them on the table for people to take if they wanted one.

    These things:

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