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Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I Voted -- Electronically, this Time

Here's my report on the new electronic voting machines.

I voted this morning at Shelley Elementary, at about 7:20 a.m. Three precincts vote there, AF05, AF11, and AF14. I was the seventh voter of the morning there, if I'm not mistaken.

This is our first election with the new Diebold electronic voting machines the State of Utah selected for us. Here's how it goes, as far as I could tell, at least where there are multiple precincts voting on different ballots.

  1. The voter tells the poll worker his or her name.
  2. The poll worker looks up the voter in the printed register.
  3. The voter signs the register in the appropriate place. (So far, all is as before.)
  4. The poll worker gives the voter a little card with a one-digit number on it. (I believe this indicates which ballot the voter should receive, since there are three precincts voting, and not all are in the same Congressional district.)
  5. The voter gives the card to another poll worker, who makes an entry on a small device that looks like a calculator. Presumably, this codes the "voter access card," a plastic card about the size of a credit card, for the proper ballot. (If everyone voting at a location has the same ballot, this is probably omitted.)
  6. The poll worker removes the voter access card from the small device and hands it to the voter.
  7. The voter takes the card and inserts it into any of the available electronic voting machines. (At my location there are about half a dozen.)
  8. The voter votes on the touch-screen machine. I found the instructions and button captions clear and very easy to read, the touch screen quite responsive (unlike some touch-screen devices I have met), and the safeguards sufficient. A list of names is presented for each race; one simply touches the name to vote for that candidate. (I received the correct ballot.)
  9. A list of the voter's selections is presented on the screen for verification.
  10. Once the voter verifies the votes by touching a button on the screen, the votes are printed on a paper roll, so that there is an audit trail for recount or verification, as necessary. The voter doesn't keep the paper; the machine does. The only deficiency I found in the whole process is that it was a little hard to get a clear view of the paper through the plastic window which covers it, because of glare from the overhead lighting. In any case, if one sees an error on the paper, one can invalidate the vote and start over again. Some will want to know that I did not see my name anywhere on the paper where my vote was recorded.
  11. By pressing a button on the touch screen, the voter verifies the vote as recorded on the paper.
  12. The voter removes the plastic card and returns it to a poll worker.
  13. The voter receives the much-coveted "I voted today!" sticker.

I found the whole thing quite painless and simple. Then again, I always thought the punch cards were sufficiently simple, too. Perhaps I would make a poor Floridian.

I can only report my part in the process, of course. I cannot comment on the ease or difficulty of programming the machines with the correct ballot information, verifying that they are set at zero when the polls open, tabulating the votes and reporting them after the polls close, or handling a recount. But my part went smoothly enough.

I understand from a County Clerk/Auditor debate that each vote is recorded in three places: the machine's internal flash memory, a removable memory card (which is delivered to the County Clerk's office for counting), and the paper roll. Both the removable card and the roll are kept for 22 months.

You can find instructions and a demonstration of the machine's operation at http://www.leaveyourprint.com, which appears to be a State of Utah web site. I also received a little pamphlet in the mail with instructions in two languages (guess which).

Apparently, there is also a provision at the machine for casting a write-in vote using an on-screen keyboard, which has to be at least as easy as the old way, which I admit I've never used.

In Utah Republican primaries are closed -- a topic for separate discussion -- meaning you have to be Republican to vote in them. If you're registered unaffiliated (as in independent, but not a member of the Independent Party), you can change your party affiliation to Republican at the polling place whey you go to vote.

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