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New voting machines for Chatham County

By Ken Boggs
Posted Monday, January 16, 2006

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Pittsboro, NC - I am concerned and bewildered with the decision making process Chatham County is going thru in preparation to purchasing new voting machines. I am no stranger to how we vote having been a Chief Judge at a major polling site. Nor am I unfamiliar with the technologies involved having worked in computer systems product development for over 30 years.

The bottom line is that DREs (touch screen/computer based machines) are a bad solution fraught with risks and problems while the latest optical mark machines, supported by a HAVA compliant machine for the disabled, is the current best choice. How do I know this?

Some of the technical reasons for not trusting the DRE results are evident in what has already happened in their use in elections. Note these problems have occurred without the responsible election officials having any idea they were happening at the time.

DREs have lost valid ballots

DREs added inappropriate ballots

DREs have provided the wrong ballots

DRE tabulating has failed to count properly

DREs have handed votes to the wrong candidate

DREs are prone to breaking down during the election

DRE printer results are not usable for a manual recount

Some of the managerial reasons for not using DREs include:

A DRE is required for every 150 to 300 eligible voters, which results in a large number of DREs required for every polling site. This increases the time, effort, and complexity of pre-election testing, polling site setup, need for backup machines, security of machines, and associated materials.

DREs require additional poll workers. In some cases, it takes one poll worker for every three machines. Already, Chatham County has had difficulty in obtaining polling place workers. If DREs are used, it is obvious that this situation is made worse and/or the polling sites are under man'd to the disservice to the voters.

DREs require far more training for both the poll workers and the back-office election staff. Contrary to expectations of simplifying the election process, DREs significantly increase the front-end load on both groups. Further, this load is experienced during every election since the setup for each election is unique.

DREs life expectancy is not well understood and could result in the necessity to replace them within a few years. It is commonplace with personal computer system technology, that is the basis for the DRE, that such machines are obsolete roughly every two years.

It will be a sad day if we trust our democracy to these DREs. We can do much better with the opti-scan.

I hope everyone who votes in Chatham County will attend the Board of Commissioners' meeting on Tuesday night (6:30 pm) in the Old County Courthouse.

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