Guest blogged by Ellen Theisen, VotersUnite.org
The actions and attitudes of election officials all too often seem like Alice's experiences down the rabbit hole. So, it's nice occasionally to report on positive developments by public officials who actually listen to the concerns of citizens, rather than simply ignoring serious defects discovered in our voting systems. I'm happy to report such a story today. For a change.
On May 6, Patty Murphy, Voting Systems Support, Secretary of State’s Office, notified my VotersUnite.org colleague and fellow Washington state resident John Gideon and me that two new voting systems were to be tested for state certification here on May 13 through May 16, and that the Review Board would hold a hearing on May 23. The Board’s job is to thoroughly review certification applications and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. The two systems were:
- An ES&S AutoMark/optical scanner system, tested against federal standards and qualified by NASED.
- A new, untested touch-screen/optical scanner system made by Sequoia Voting Systems
John and I were concerned about the Sequoia system. Pierce County, WA, voters recently voted to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a system where voters may specify their preferences in particular races on the ballot as "first choice," "second choice," or "third choice." However, no state-certified system had the software needed to tabulate RCV ballots. So Sequoia developed their software specifically for Pierce County. They had applied for “emergency” provisional certification from the state, which would allow them to bypass state requirements for independent testing to the federal standards.
Tabulating RCV ballots is much more complicated than tabulating traditional ballots. With RCV, after voters mark their first, second, and third choices for certain offices, the tabulation is done in a series of “rounds.” The candidate with the fewest “first choice” votes after each round is eliminated; then in the next round the second choice on those ballots is counted as if it were the first choice. Rounds continue until one candidate has the majority of the votes. For a fuller explanation, see the Pierce County website.
John and I had planned to go to the testing on May 14, but at the last minute the testing for that day was called off so officials could investigate a problem that had shown up the previous day.
As we found out later, officials had found the Sequoia system had tallied votes wrong.
Later in the day, the SoS office's Murphy emailed us to let us know what happened...