(c) Copyright June 14, 2004 by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
** Note: The following article was published on Hawaii Reporter on-line newspaper on June 14, 2004, at:
New Voting Procedures Ahead
By Kenneth R. Conklin, 6/14/2004
This is a description of federally mandated changes in the process of voting, as implemented in Hawaii for the 2004 elections. It's a highly subjective talk-story from someone at the bottom of the food-chain, calling attention to small signs of big changes ahead. I attended a routine training program for precinct election officials. It turned out to be far from routine. Afterward I thought about what happened, and did some research. This is my report to the class on my "excellent adventure."
Perhaps the biggest change will be DRE -- direct recording electronic voting machines that do not use any paper ballots. DRE is being introduced in Hawaii as a kind of voluntary pilot program supposedly related to a nationwide push for greater polling-place accessibility for voters with disabilities. But long-term, DRE will be a major change for all voters, unrelated to disabled voter accessibility; and it is controversial throughout our nation. Linking DRE to disabled voter accessibility might be nothing more than a political ploy to drum up support for a very controversial new technology that might open the door to massive vote fraud (or might not!).
My Background as a Low-level Precinct Election
I have worked as a precinct election official in every primary and general election from September 1994 until now (except the general election of 2000 when I was a candidate on the ballot for OHA and therefore not eligible to work). I have always worked at the lowest level and will do so again this year: verifying voters' registration at the pollbook station, handing out ballots, guarding the ballot box, or answering questions for new or confused voters. I'll be working again this year, and recently attended the mandatory training program.
The changes in Hawaii ballot procedures are probably localized versions of changes taking place throughout the nation because of laws passed by Congress, plus the effort to implement new technology. Disclaimer: I am just a lowly precinct official. What I say in this article is only my own personal commentary and does not speak officially on behalf of the State of Hawaii Office of Elections.
The Elections Office Needs More Precinct Officials - Please Volunteer
Before describing the changes, let me encourage people to work at the precincts on election day. Anyone who is a registered voter and not a candidate can work. The pay is less than minimum wage -- $75 for the 13.5 hours from 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (polls are open for voting from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; but startup and shutdown procedures are also needed). In addition you must attend a training session that lasts between two and three hours, and you must pass an open-book exam based on the 178-page training manual. The pay has not been raised in the 10 years I have been working. Think of it as community service, like jury duty. If people don't do these things, democracy cannot survive. The primary election is Saturday, Sept. 18. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Call the Office of Elections as soon as possible if you'd like to work either or both dates: On Oahu 453-8683; Hawaii County 961-8277; Maui County 270-7749; Kauai County 241-6350.
Every election year the training program has felt like a refresher course for experienced precinct officials. I clearly recall my ignorance and confusion the first time I attended a training course. There was far too much to learn. First-time workers can make it through the training course and pass the open-book test, but will want to stay close to an experienced worker on election day to learn through apprenticeship.
Sensitivity-Training for Helping Voters With Disabilities
This year's training program started out like always, boring and predictable. The only hint that something significant might happen was the presence of Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina, probably monitoring one of the first of many training sessions to be offered throughout Hawaii. But then came a curve ball.
We watched a sensitivity-training cartoon video produced on the mainland, informing us about the special needs of voters with disabilities (as though we were ignorant). The video was followed by comments from the trainer: don't "help" a handicapped voter or touch his equipment unless invited to do so; don't pet or speak to a seeing-eye dog; don't shout at people who are deaf or can't understand English; call headquarters for translation assistance if a voter who does not speak English has questions and no precinct worker speaks the voter's own language; etc. In previous years very little time was spent training to be ready for special-needs voters. Why all the attention this year? I didn't know, but I did some research later to find out (see below).
DRE - Direct Recording Electronic Voting Machine
Following the disability sensitivity-training segment, the program seemed to return to its usual discussion of routine topics ... until ... another curve ball. Small comments gradually began referring to electronic voting machines that would not use paper ballots at all. Questions from the audience elicited incomplete replies that gave tantalizing hints there would be major changes in voting procedures for 2004, but the changes could not yet be clearly described. So, why were we having a training program when an important component of the voting process was not yet decided? Perhaps because there must be a training program, and such programs must be offered at many locations by a small staff that must travel to all of them over an extended period; so let's get the ball rolling even though we don't know all the answers. Why has our Hawaii bureaucracy delayed its choice of vendors and hardware until so late? I don't know. Maybe there are uncertainties at the federal level, maybe the vendors are behind schedule producing or testing new equipment, or maybe our local bureaucrats are simply inefficient. It wasn't too long ago that Dwayne Yoshina barely survived a politically-charged process to reconfirm him as Chief Elections Officer, so perhaps decisions were delayed until that position was definitely filled.
At the end of the evening, here's my impression of what's happening.
All voters in 2004 will be able to vote in the same way they voted in 2002 if they wish to do so. You get a paper ballot and use an ordinary black pen to darken an oval next to a candidate's name. You then walk to a machine and insert the ballot into a slot. The machine tentatively reads your ballot. If you have marked it in a normal, legally allowable way, the ballot will go inside the machine and the counter will increase by one, letting you know your ballot has been counted. Those paper ballots will remain in storage, allowing immediate recounts of disputed elections as well as statistical analyses by future historians for decades to come. If you leave your ballot blank for any contest, or vote for too many candidates, or vote in a primary election in more than one political party, the machine will beep and give you a chance to go get a new ballot; or you can choose to let the ballot be accepted as marked, even knowing that it is blank or that some or all of your votes will be disqualified as overvotes or cross-party primary votes (a few voters intentionally cast a blank ballot to make a political statement, and that is permissible and will be counted).
All voters who wish to do so may choose to vote by using a new machine called DRE -- Direct Recording Electronic voting machine. A voter using such a machine will not use any paper ballot. He will vote by putting his finger or an electronic pen on a touch-screen displaying a picture of a ballot. The screen will temporarily show all the votes marked by the voter, until the voter has finished "marking" the "ballot." At that point the voter will be given a chance to actually cast the ballot or to make changes before casting it. If a contest has been left blank, or there are too many votes in a contest, or there are votes in more than one political party in a primary election, the voter will see a message about the problem. Blanks will be allowed (as always before); but overvotes or crossparty primary votes will not be allowed to be entered. A voter who tries to enter an "illegal" ballot will see a warning message and will have the choice of correcting the problem or abandoning the attempt to vote altogether. When a voter is satisfied that the picture of the ballot is marked the way he wants it to be, and the machine is satisfied that the vote is legally allowable, the voter can then touch an "enter" spot on the screen to actually cast that ballot. The machine will then print out a receipt acknowledging that a ballot has been cast, and the machine will be reset for the next voter.
I asked how it can be ensured that a voter cannot cast more than one ballot, and was told that an election official will have to push a button or insert a key or do something after one ballot has been cast before the machine will reset to be ready for another ballot.
I asked how recounts can be done when a vote count is disputed. This is a serious issue with DRE, because there will be no paper ballots to be recounted. The only recount available might be for the machine's computer to print out (the same!) numbers it printed the first time. The seriousness of the recount problem is obvious when considering the possibility of "crossed wires" or intentional computer-programming fraud. Perhaps the circuit board has been incorrectly wired to send all votes for candidate A to the counter for B. Or perhaps a computer hacker has deliberately written the counting program to "cross the wires" in certain selected precincts to send every-other vote for A to B in those precincts. With no paper ballots as backup, the true vote count might never be knowable. And what about future historians wanting to do recounts on specific issues? (For example, what percentage of people voting for candidate A also voted for Constitutional amendment X, compared with the percentage of voters for candidate B who voted for X?)
It turns out that the actual hardware for the DRE has not yet been chosen by Mr. Yoshina or the State of Hawaii. Therefore precinct election officials (like me) cannot yet be trained for the specific equipment that will be used. But the training program must go forward on schedule in order for the elections to go forward on schedule. We were told that some sort of update might be provided after the hardware contract has been signed and before the September 18 primary, if an individual official or a precinct chairperson requests it.
In response to my questions about recounts, Mr. Yoshina said the DRE will actually store not only the vote counts but will also store the final picture of every ballot as approved by each individual voter at the time the voter cast it. I don't see how Mr. Yoshina can be sure that's what will happen, since there are probably different companies offering different hardware and Hawaii has not yet selected a vendor. If he is correct that a picture of the final ballot approved by the voter will be stored in computer memory, that would seem to solve the problem of "crossed wires" or programmer fraud, and also the availability of raw ballots for future historical analysis. But knowing how much storage space is required for storing photographs in computer memory, it is hard to imagine how one machine can store several thousand ballot pictures at one precinct; and also hard to imagine how several hundred thousand such pictures from the primary election of 2004 can be saved in a computer archive for the next 50 years (especially considering that the hardware and software will undergo many changes as time goes by -- remember those betamax videotapes you saved 20 years ago, and those 8-track music tapes in your closet?)
''How are DRE and Disabilities Sensitivity-Training Related to Each Other and to New National Laws?
Remember the problems in Florida in the 2000 election?
One problem in Florida was voters being turned away on the grounds that they were not properly registered. There were charges that most of these turn-aways were blacks likely to vote Democrat. New federal law now requires precinct election officials to accept "provisional ballots" and store them separately and uncounted until a voter's registration can be confirmed (perhaps many days later). But of course such a procedure requires some (at least theoretical) violation of a voter's right to privacy, since the voter's name and address will be on an envelope containing his ballot until proper registration can be confirmed. And it's very unlikely that a DRE could handle provisional ballots, since there's no way to wrap an electronic ballot in an envelope with a person's name on it to be held in reserve.
Another Florida problem was "butterfly" ballots -- a booklet with candidate names printed on both sides while holes to be punched were perhaps on the opposite side of the crease and not well-aligned. Another Florida problem was hanging chads -- punched-out holes not completely punched out, raising questions whether a voter actually intended to vote for that particular candidate. Hawaii voters will recall it was only a few years ago that we had both butterfly ballots and hole-punch devices. We were lucky to avoid serious difficulties with them (or were we perhaps unlucky not to realize that we were having problems we were unaware of?). Both our current system of mark-sense paper ballots and the new DRE machines avoid both the butterfly ballots and the hanging chads.
The way DRE is being "sold" this year is to portray it as a way to meet the special needs of some voters with disabilities. For example, it was claimed that a voter with mobility problems could stay in his car and have the DRE taken to him, operating on battery power while unplugged for a short period. The device is apparently small enough to be held on a lap. However, mark-sense paper ballots and black-ink pens are even easier for an election official to take to a voter's car, and do not inconvenience a line of voters who must wait for the DRE to be returned from outdoors.
DRE is being offered in Hawaii as an optional way of casting a vote. No voter will be required to use it. In effect, we will be running a pilot project to test the new technology on a probably small number of volunteers, most of whom will either have physical disabilities or be techno junkies eager to try a new system.
Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina is to be praised for implementing the mark-sense voting machines a couple years before they became nationally widespread, thereby saving Hawaii from Florida-style problems. He also deserves credit for trying to comply with new federal laws by way of a small-scale vonuntary-use DRE pilot project, rather than jeapordize a major election by adopting an untried DRE system as the sole method for casting ballots.
It would appear that Hawaii is (partially) adopting new technology, and also focusing election-worker training on sensitivity to voters with disabilities, in order to comply with new federal law. That law also includes large amounts of money to help states comply. With the DRE pilot project and the sensitivity-training, Hawaii is probably getting substantial amounts of federal money to purchase DRE equipment and to conduct the (entire regular) training program for precinct officials. Having taken the money, we then get DRE equipment sufficient to do the entire election in the future, while limiting the downside risk by testing that equipment in a pilot project limited to voters who voluntarily choose to use it. Hawaii sends tax dollars to Washington. Washington keeps some of the money and sends back some of it to us, with strings attached that require us to adopt federal policies. Then, if local bureaucrats are clever enough, Hawaii can grab the federal money while adjusting the way we comply with federal mandates in such a way as to meet our own preferences.
In the management of voting, just as in the management of schools, it is important to balance the needs of a few clients who have disabilities against the needs of the great majority. A common saying in the business community is that 80 percent of the profits come from 20 percent of the customers, while 80 percent of the problems come from a different 20 percent of the customers. Teachers and school administrators know the same concept is true in managing "discipline" problems and handling students with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities. And now we see that phenomenon in the management of voting. The training program for precinct officials this year spent an inordinate amount of time on sensitivity-training for assisting voters with disabilities, and an inordinate amount of time dealing with confusion about DRE machines which will not be used by very many people and for which a vendor and specific hardware have not yet been selected. Thank goodness most precinct election officials are experienced and do not need much training in the routine procedures that constitute most of their activities at the polling place.
Punchcards, and paper ballots to be marked with "X" are quickly being replaced nationwide with mark-sense paper ballots for computer scanning, of the kind used in Hawaii elections in 2000 and 2002. Avoidance of old-fashioned ballots is an effort to avoid the problems seen in Florida 2000. But it is also an effort to use technology to help voters with disabilities.
The type of ballot boxes we use in Hawaii automatically scan a ballot to determine whether it might have commonly made errors such as contests left blank, too many votes (vote for no more than 3 of these 6 candidates), or cross-party primary votes (votes in all contests must be within the same political party, except for non-partisan contests or ballot questions). If a blank or "illegal" ballot is detected, the machine rejects it with an error message and returns it to the voter who has a chance to get a new ballot and vote correctly. This rejection of incorrect ballots can be seen as a way to help elderly or ill voters who may be confused about the process, or to help voters handicapped with low IQs. In my own experience as a precinct official, I have dealt with dozens of voters each election who make errors caught by the machine. Some of them are pleased to know about their error, and they go to get a new ballot and correct the problem. But some who get a ballot rejected by the machine feel embarrassed, confused, or angry. When told their ballot (or parts of it) will not be counted unless they fix the problem, they impatiently shrug their shoulders and push the button to "accept" their illegal ballot, probably knowing it is wasted. According to Dwayne Yoshina, the new DRE machines will not allow an illegal ballot to be accepted. The voter will get a message from the machine telling what's wrong with the (picture of the) ballot, and can try as many times as he wishes to make it right. But in the end the voter will either succeed in casting a correct ballot or will know that his attempt to vote has been unsuccessful, without the face-saving option of making the machine accept the ballot (as trash). Thus the DRE will totally eliminate overvoting and cross-party primary voting from the elections-office statistics, and will probably result in fewer voting attempts ending up unsuccessful (because voters will persist to fix errors rather than admit defeat). However, voters who fail and cannot figure out what to do and who may be unwilling to accept help from someone seeing how they actually vote, will probably be more angry than before.
Nationwide Push Toward Electronic Voting, Instant Voter-Registration, and Absentee Ballots Might Eventually Combine to Produce Internet Voting and Frequent 'Direct Democracy' National Plebiscites
Nationwide there has been a push throughout the past decade to increase voter participation and to be sure everyone who wishes to vote is given whatever assistance they need. For example, in the "Motor-Voter Registration Act" several years ago Congress required all states that receive federal highway funds (i.e., all 50 states!) to offer voter registration as a routine part of getting a car registration or a drivers license renewal. The idea is that many people who might never go out of their way to register for voting will now register because they will be handed a voter registration form every time they register a car or get a drivers license.
The Americans With Disabilities Act requires public places, including election precinct polling places, to be accessible to voters with disabilities. Most states print ballots and voter instructions in several languages and have them available at all polling places. People who speak languages other than English are encouraged to work as precinct election officials. All officials are asked to identify what languages they speak and to be available to help non-English speakers. In Hawaii Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, and Ilocano are well-covered at the precinct level, while headquarters this year will try to have translators available for telephone consultation in Vietnamese and Korean.
The push to increase voter participation has included highly controversial procedures in some places around America. Voters might be allowed to register at the same place and time as they vote. This makes it possible for people to vote who have a "last minute" mentality or who get all excited about some last-minute election issue. But instant registration carries an obvious risk of fraudulent voting, and would be an obvious incentive to candidates to spring last-minute false charges against opponents who would not have time to defend themselves. The logic of instant registration would be to simply abolish advance registration and pollbooks. Everyone coming through the door on election day could sign an affidavit of residency and citizenship at one end of a table, then pick up a ballot in the middle of the table (if paper ballots are still being used!) and then cast votes at the other end of the table; all in less time than it takes to say "vote fraud."
The absentee ballot procedure has been liberalized in many places. Voters may routinely choose to vote absentee even when they will be present on election day; simply to avoid making a trip to the polling place and waiting in line. Indeed, it might make sense to expect people with disabilities to vote absentee rather than to require polling places to make expensive or time-consuming physical and procedural changes to accommodate them. Nobody would be required to vote absentee, but voting absentee might be a whole lot more convenient for people with disabilities than voting in person, especially if polling places are not required to accommodate their physical requirements.
The whole concept of absentee voting is being expanded in some jurisdictions to make it the only way to vote in some elections. In Honolulu, for example, elections for neighborhood board are done by mail only. Elections conducted entirely by mail have many advantages, and obvious potential for election fraud. Just think how convenient it would be, and how much money could be saved, by abolishing precinct polling places entirely and requiring people to receive and cast their ballots by mail.
The next logical extension would be first to allow, and eventually to require, ballots to be cast on the internet. A similar transition has already taken place at the Campaign Spending Commission -- a few years ago it became possible for candidates to file required campaign contribution and spending statements electronically on computer diskette and/or by email; now all candidates are required to do that (and it is now easier for the public to find out immediately who contributed how much to whom). To vote, people without internet access at home could go to their local public library or school to use the computers. In cases of severe disability, perhaps a charity or government agency would make home-visits to supply "computers on wheels" comparable to the current "meals on wheels."
The DRE might be seen as a first step toward an internet voting system. Indeed, internet voting would be nothing more than a combination of DRE with absentee voting. Perhaps voter registration could also be done by internet, perhaps even at the same moment as casting a vote. With such a system in place, the President could go on TV and ask people to vote immediately in a binding electronic plebiscite whether to raise taxes, approve a Constitutional amendment, or even go to war. Within the foreseeable future such "direct democracy" will be technologically feasible. Whether it would be desirable is very doubtful.
One small detail in the Hawaii pollbooks is mildly annoying to me. Remember that in February 2000 the Rice v. Cayetano decision by the Supreme Court said it is unconstitutional to have a racial restriction on who can vote for OHA trustees. And later that summer the Arakaki1 decision said it is unconstitutional to have a racial restriction on who can run as a candidate for OHA trustee. It took two years before all the voter registration forms were changed to reflect the court decisions and remove the race question. Pollbooks list the names and addresses of all registered voters. A column in the pollbook requires the ballot-issuing official to write the serial number of the ballot, thereby ensuring that every ballot is accounted for. Before the Rice decision the pollbooks also included a column identifying voters of Hawaiian ancestry by providing a space to write down the serial number of the OHA ballot. By 2002 the pollbook no longer included any indication of the voter's race, although there was still a wide column (unused) to write down the OHA ballot serial number. Unfortunately the pollbooks for 2004 still include a narrow, vestigial column labeled "OHA." Hopefully that column, or at least its "OHA" header, can be eliminated before 2006.
One more small detail should be called into question because it might save a lot of time and hoarse voices for pollbook officials, and shorten the lines at peak times. For many years and continuing this year, the serial number of the ballot given to a voter is recorded in the pollbook next to the voter's name (the serial number is only on the receipt stub, which is removed and kept by the voter before the ballot is cast, thus ensuring that the cast ballot cannot be traced back to the individual voter). The procedure is that two clerks sit at the "pollbook and ballot issuing station." One clerk handles the pollbook, verifying the voter's identity and requiring the voter to sign on the dotted line. The other clerk, who issues the ballots, then pulls out the next ballot, and reads the ballot serial number out loud to the pollbook clerk, who writes it in the pollbook. However, Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina says that this year those voters who wish to vote on the DRE machine will simply have "DRE" written in the space where the ballot serial number would normally be written. This raises an interesting question. If it's not necessary to write down ballot serial numbers to account for all DRE "ballots" issued, then why should it be necessary to do that for paper ballots? The machine that the mark-sense paper ballots go into reads the ballot and clicks a publicly visible counter to record one more ballot when the ballot is accepted. It would seem there's no need to record ballot serial numbers in the pollbook at all. In all these years has there ever been any occasion when someone actually looked through the pollbooks to verify that every ballot serial number was accounted for? Let's see how long it takes the bureaucracy to eliminate this unnecessary procedure.
- 1. It can be difficult to strike a fair balance between accommodating the special needs of people with disabilities vs. accommodating the need of society to avoid large expenditures of time and money to meet the needs of a few individuals. A democratic society has an obligation to help people with disabilities to be able to vote. Some people would argue that there is no limit to how much help should be given to people with special needs. Christians might refer to Genesis 4:9 "And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" and Matthew 25:40 where Jesus said: "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me." Hubert Humphrey said "The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped." Some taxpayers say: enough is enough already!
- 2. The State of Hawaii Office of Elections has a Web page at http://www.hawaii.gov/elections On that Web page is recruitment Information: Trainers For Individuals With Disabilities http://www.hawaii.gov/elections/facts/disabilities.pdf Election Day Worker http://www.hawaii.gov/elections/votework.html
- 3. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 is Public Law 107-252. The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services are jointly responsible for forcing states to comply with HAVA, and have established a timetable for compliance and implementation of various aspects of the law. The Federal Elections Commission has a website where a large Web page is devoted to HAVA: http://fecweb1.fec.gov/hava/hava.htm The text of the law is at http://fecweb1.fec.gov/hava/law_ext.txt
- 4. Every state was required to set up its own timetable for compliance, and committees to implement compliance. The State of Hawaii compliance plan can be seen in both pdf and plain text at http://www.hawaii.gov/elections/facts/HAVAstatePlan.pdf and http://www.hawaii.gov/elections/facts/HAVA.txt
- 5. There is also a Federal Voting Assistance Program with a Web site at http://www.fvap.gov/ This Web site provides information to U.S. citizens in the military or traveling abroad, covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
SEE OTHER RECENT ESSAYS BY KEN CONKLIN ABOUT TOPICS NOT DIRECTLY RELATED TO HAWAIIAN SOVEREIGNTY
SEE WEBPAGES BY KEN CONKLIN ABOUT HAWAIIAN SOVEREIGNTY ISSUES