Saturday, February 24, 2007

Voter Error Determined in Florida

Once again, the voters take the blame. NYT - Panel Cites Voter Error, Not Software, in Loss of Votes
Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of voting software did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000 votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, and they suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly to blame.
The main problem with the vote in this Congressional race in Florida was that approximately 18,000 people voted in the other races on the ballot, but didn't cast a vote for this race. It's true that the ballot design is bad:Notice the lack of highlighting to clue voters to the race in question. But this still seems rather odd as an explanation for so many uncast votes, as the article points out:
While some voters in Sarasota bristled yesterday at the idea that they had done anything wrong in casting their votes, or that nearly 13 percent of all voters could have failed to spot the race on the ballot, members of the investigative team said that those remained the only plausible theories.
There is another explanation offered:
Edward W. Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist, wrote last night that the security weaknesses need to be fixed before this type of machine is used again. He also wrote: “The study claims to have ruled out reliability problems as a cause of the undervotes, but their evidence on this point is weak, and I think the jury is still out on whether voting machine malfunctions could be a significant cause of the undervotes.”
And some sort of malfunction, be it software or something else, would seem to be the only explanation for this type of problem;
Ms. Ward-Jenkins and more than 100 other voters contacted The Sarasota Herald-Tribune shortly after the election to complain that even though an “X” appeared on the touchscreen when they pressed the box for Ms. Jennings, their votes had disappeared by the time they got to a final screen for reviewing their choices.
I don't know what it is going to take for Florida to clean up its act when it comes to voting, but something has to be done. Additionally, if the problems really do come down to flawed ballot design, someone needs to start doing something to ballot designers and stop giving them a free pass when they screw things up so royally.

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