By Brad Friedman on 5/19/2009, 10:40pm PT  

Readers of The BRAD BLOG may remember my disturbing experience last June, while voting in the California state primary election on the audio balloting system here in Los Angeles County, as 4 out of 12 of my votes were misprinted by the lousy electronic voting system. As the ES&S InkaVote Plus system is generally meant for blind voters, it was doubly troubling that the only way I was able to discover the misprinted votes was by closely studying my computer-marked paper ballot before dropping it into the optical-scanner, where it would have disappeared, incorrectly voted, forever.

Well, it was Election Day again today in CA. And, after skipping the "opportunity" to use the audio ballot system to vote in last November's General Election (it takes too damn long, and I had very little time to vote that day), I thought I'd take it out for another spin during today's special election...

After last June's sorry episode, it was discovered, by LA County's Registrar/Recorder Dean Logan, that the misprinting was due to a poll worker having mis-keyed my polling place number into the computer when setting up my audio ballot. That these systems are so poorly designed, that such an error could occur in the first place, was acknowledged to be a problem by Logan, at the time. He and his crew had devoted quite a bit of time to forensically testing the specific machine I had used, on which the vote-flipping had occurred --- and which they quarantined that night, after I'd sent them notice of the problem --- in order to determine why the failure had happened. They later invited me to witness their tests of the system, which was video taped, and in which they were able to recreate the precise failure that had occurred.

(Whether such pains would have been taken had the problem occurred for anybody else --- say, someone who didnt have a loud, trouble-making, election integrity-related blog --- I still couldn't tell you.)

I was happy to see that both of the audio ballot machines at my polling place (there are are two precincts combined into one polling place, so one machine for each) were working this afternoon, for a change. In three of the past five elections, the system at my precinct had been broken and unusable. Last June, I had to vote provisionally on the machine at the precinct across the room from my own precinct's table, because the machine at mine was down. In one instance, the pollworkers were afraid to touch it, due to the hanging, exposed electrical wires.

In either case, last June, as today, nobody else had ever voted on the machines at my polling place, other than me, according to the poll workers there. So glad we spent billions of dollars on the entire disabled voter scam used to force almost everyone in America to vote on crappy, hackable, non-transparent electronic devices.

Anyway, the good news is that this time, out of the 9 votes I was able to cast on the machine, all of them printed correctly!

I was disenfranchised, however, on a 10th vote I had hoped to cast, for a write-in candidate, since, as I learned today, write-ins cannot be done on the ES&S InkaVote Plus system.

Logan confirmed to me, via email tonight, that "The audio ballot booth is not set-up or equipped to record write-in votes."

Swell. Given the millions of dollars spent on these machines in LA County alone, it's somewhat incredible that they do not allow for write-in votes. Actually, it seems rather illegal to me. But Logan says the matter is addressed in CA Sec. of State Debra Bowen's conditional certification documents for these systems, and he conceded that "it is something that needs to be addressed and considered in the dialog and strategic planning for future voting system(s) needs in L.A. County."

Uh, yeah.

In hopes of documenting my experience today, in case there were problems again --- last time it was a photograph of the misprinted ballot which helped lead to the County's quick discovery of why the failure occurred --- we attempted to take a few shots, but were stopped by a poll worker who informed us that he was instructed by the Registrar (Logan) that photos were not allowed, and that they were told to call the sheriff if anyone tried to do so.

"It was because of you, because of what happened last time when you had your problem," the poll worker told me. Several of them remembered the incident from last June.

The new policy, as the poll worker explained it to me, seemed in direct contradiction to a previous ruling by Bowen allowing voters to document their experience at the polling place, on camera, as long as they didn't violate the privacy of other voters.

Logan told me tonight, in response to my question about that: "Our policies on photography and video taping in polling places is consistent with Secretary Bowen's advisory to County Registrars. It sounds as if the poll worker you spoke with was over zealous in his protection of the privacy of other voters and the polling place environment."

He may have been, as I was the only one voting in the entire polling place, I believe, at that particular moment. There was certainly nobody else voting in camera range of where I was voting. The special election had a very low turnout across the state.

[Update 5/20/09: On follow-up, after publication of this article, Logan sent me the link to his advisory [PDF] in re: the use of cameras at the polling place and, unless the poll worker received differing instructions, it would appear that he was indeed "over zealous". The advisory allows that "Press and Media may take pictures or run a television camera inside the polling place providing they respect the voter’s privacy and do not interfere with voting. However, voters...may not be filmed inside the polling place, without the voter’s permission," as per CA Election Code §18541.]

Nonetheless, as usual, all the poll workers there were very nice, and lord knows we could use a lot more of those dedicated folks who perform a rather thankless task, over an incredibly long day. One of them, Eugenia Dallas, handed me her business card on my way out, asking me to look at the compelling story on her website, which features information on her book, One Woman, Five Lives, Five Countries, and details of her life from the great famine of the Ukraine, through Nazi Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the U.S., where she was a model, artist, poet, activist and much more.

She told me, on my way out, with a smile, in her heavily accented English, after I'd asked so many questions today: "You are a very challenging young man."

I'll take it as a compliment, Eugenia. And thanks again for serving.

So, other than the matter of my lost write-in vote --- and a stuttering audio tape that confusingly said, for example, "you selec", instead of "you selected", and referred to YES/NO options on initiatives as "candidates" --- things went without too many problems today. At least for me. Whether my computer-printed, optically-scanned paper ballot will actually be counted accurately, or even at all, well, that's something that we can likely never know. At least not with the lousy electronic voting system we are forced to use here in Los Angeles County.

But many people are trying, at least. If those people were allowed to actually count our votes --- instead of being forced to make due with horribly designed, often failing, easily hacked, stupidly expensive, inaccurate and untested electronic equipment made by irresponsible private companies and running on secret software --- we might be able to get one step closer to a government of the people, by the people and for the people once again.

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