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Co-founder, Video the Vote
With early voting all the rage in 2008, voters have already been casting ballots – and encountering problems – for weeks. One of the biggest concerns we’ve seen at Video the Vote is vote flipping: voters choose one option (e.g., Ralph Nader) and the electronic machine records a different choice (e.g., John McCain). Written reports of vote flipping have emerged from Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and elsewhere. So we headed to Jackson County, West Virginia, to get a first hand look.
What we found was concerning:
County Clerk Jeff Waybright showed us how an uncalibrated machine flips votes. But then, the machine appears to malfunction even after the machine is calibrated. Not surprisingly, the video has caught fire online, being viewed more than 250,000 times.
We have since been told by West Virginia officials that the machine was actually working correctly: When Mr. Waybright pressed Ralph Nader for president and then pressed a straight Republican ticket, the machine kept the vote for Nader to maintain voter intent. In software terms, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Despite statements by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office to the contrary, Mr. Waybright never directly corrected himself in the video. However, for transparency’s sake, we’ve posted the entire unedited interview so voters can see for themselves:
If Mr. Waybright misspoke, we think it only reinforces the problems with these machines. When the head election official in Jackson County needs two tries to explain how the machine functions, what do we expect will happen to average voters who don’t get a second chance to cast their votes?
But Jackson County aside, there’s a broader point here that goes beyond a two-minute web video. Voters are clearly experiencing problems with touch screen machines, particularly the iVotronic made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and the problems are not limited to a handful of votes. In the 2006 Florida 13th District Congressional race, in which was decided by 373 votes, iVotronic machines registered more than 18,000 undervotes in Sarasota County – meaning one in every six voters didn’t have a vote counted on the most important race on the ticket. This discrepancy was never adequately explained.
As long as these very real problems persist, the use of touchscreen machines will continue to erode American’s confidence in our election systems. And given what’s happened in recent years, it can’t get much lower.
Ian Inaba is an award-winning director and producer whose credits include the Sundance-award-winning American Blackout, the controversial pre-election music video for Eminem's "Mosh," and the book True Lies.
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