Voting booth malfunctions
November 7, 2006 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Definite tech trouble with voting machines this year. I just attempted to vote at 3 different locations here in Denver. Lines were extra long due to voting booth malfunctions. Luckily they had a combination of old voting booths and new voting booths at most locations. Lines were terrible as a result of these tech failures.
posted by PetBoogaloo (55 comments total)
You can vote at three different locations? I only got to vote at one :(
posted by sbutler at 3:44 PM on November 7, 2006

Yeah, reports from all over the country seem to indicate that special snowflakes are having particular trouble voting.
posted by felix betachat at 3:47 PM on November 7, 2006

I'm confused. Is there anyone, anywhere, at this point who wants to use these machines besides Diebold? Even Republicans seem skittish about it.

Someone must be making a bunch of money on this somehow. I mean besides the company that makes them.
posted by cj_ at 3:48 PM on November 7, 2006

Voted using one of the touch-screen things this afternoon. A fairly significant vote misregistered, but it might've been sloppiness on my part, and it was easily remedied.

I really don't trust these machines, but then I have significant trust issues with people just as much as I do with technology. (PTSD, the gift that keeps on giving...) These machines are merely a higher-tech potential way to diddle me at the polls.
posted by pax digita at 3:56 PM on November 7, 2006

Voting today was *sweet*! I signed next to my printed name on a paper register, took the provided paper ballot to the booth, used a ballpoint pen to bubble in the candidates and ballot measures I wanted, then fed the ballot into an optical scanning machine.

No news of any election troubles yet, though some parts of my state are switching to touch-screen voting[.pdf]. Until touch-screen voting is working at 100% accuracy, I say booooooo.
posted by mistermoore at 3:57 PM on November 7, 2006

Even Ken Melman chose a paper ballot when given the choice between that and an electronic machine. (Yeah, sure, that line was shorter -- but you think the head of the Republican party would want to make different statement.)
posted by VulcanMike at 3:59 PM on November 7, 2006

I hate to be the splash of cold water in the face of some righteous indignation, but equipment failure doesn't equal Diebold machines (though there seems to be some question about whether or not Diebold equals equipment failure, but we can ponder that later.)

Equipment failure here could be referring to scantrons or even the old lever kind of machine. Anything that holds up the voting process while it's repaired.

How many voting machines are out there? (honestly, I have no idea). Machines break. A better question would be 'Which machines can be brought back online the most quickly when something does break?'

And here is where we can trash Diebold, because I'm betting dollars to donuts that scantron owns this playing field.
posted by quin at 4:03 PM on November 7, 2006

Oh, and...

/me wishes for umptymillionth time that if we USians can have national holdiays for significant historical figures, we could have one for the act of voting.

'Scuse the derail; carry on.
posted by pax digita at 4:05 PM on November 7, 2006

pax: because having a holiday on a tuesday would be fucked up, and we'd have to change the constitution to change that. Also, that might mean everyone went to vote. Nobody wants to see that.
posted by absalom at 4:08 PM on November 7, 2006

Let me be more specific:

No one in power wants that.
posted by absalom at 4:09 PM on November 7, 2006

posted by fire&wings at 4:15 PM on November 7, 2006


I used a nice, old-fashioned, reliable lever machine.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 4:17 PM on November 7, 2006

Has anyone presented a legitimate reason for why paper ballots can't be used?

I know it's more cumbersome and I remember the hanging chads, but electronic voting isn't the only alternative.

Why not use a simplified paper ballot?
posted by Adam_S at 4:21 PM on November 7, 2006

Good old lever machines. Why doesn't everbody use them?
posted by amethysts at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2006

I voted the shit out of this election. I was the 925th voter at my precint and there was a long line of twenty-somethings waiting to vote. They were even running low on ballots.

*fingers crossed*
posted by drezdn at 4:23 PM on November 7, 2006

I knew the Electronic voting machines were running Microsoft Windows! This is just proof.
posted by aacheson at 4:28 PM on November 7, 2006

160 vs 15 at my normal voting time. Not as long a line as 2004. The name is still mispelled rough Ushlar - just like its been from 2000, so I just told 'em my U spelled version and it was all cool.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:33 PM on November 7, 2006

If you had linked to lots of sources for various election stories this might be worth while. But on it's own it's crap.

Some intresting things: MoveOn offers $250,000 for evidence of election tampering. and governers and congressmen being turned away from polls for failing new ID requirements.
posted by Paris Hilton at 4:35 PM on November 7, 2006

We had the same machines that mistermoore described, black in a bubble, feed the ballot into a scanner. Seems about perfect to me.

Also, I got to vote against Santorum. No matter how things turn out, I'm going to be smiling about that all week.
posted by Eddie Mars at 4:37 PM on November 7, 2006

because having a holiday on a tuesday would be fucked up

I dunno... I quite enjoyed having yesterday off for a horse race.

And I hate horses.
posted by pompomtom at 4:49 PM on November 7, 2006

How can you vote at any one of a few locations? I always get told where to go to vote, no choice. Couldn't you just drive around and vote at all the locations? They don't check the roles until the polls close around here. Freakin' Denver, making things weird.
posted by Science! at 4:51 PM on November 7, 2006

Went @ 6:00pm. I was 3rd in line for a 3 booth polling location in someone's garage. Entered the booth, made my choices on what seemed like a giant 24"H x 36" w "chart" that listed the options, pressed the for or against buttons and the little light above each issue/choice went out. Hit the "cast vote" button and was out of there in about 6 minutes total. Then again, I guess that is not where the problem lies....I am almost, almost convinced that my vote really doesn't count. Oh yeah...special snowflake...that cracks me up!
posted by winks007 at 5:06 PM on November 7, 2006

They couldn't have a national holiday for voting, because then most people would go on a vacation, and not be in their district to vote.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:12 PM on November 7, 2006

pompomtom opines "I dunno... I quite enjoyed having yesterday off for a horse race."

You went to a Katherine Harris rally?

Couldn't resist
posted by clevershark at 5:15 PM on November 7, 2006

What I'm confused about is that the provisional ballot that the local paper published didn't reflect all the issues. There were a lot more things in the machine than there were on the sample ballot. So I voted 'no' on everything I hadn't had a chance to study.

I didn't think to look at the papers at the polling station, though, I just used the ballots that the local newspaper had on their website. They missed a number of proposed Constitutional amendments. Weird, weird stuff.

Voting in Georgia is very frustrating. The elections board doesn't provide sample ballots online. It is extremely difficult to determine what the issues are, or even the candidates. I had to spend several hours trying to find position statements by candidates, because there was simply no mention of any of them in any kind of central location. Just determining who the candidates WERE took some determined online searching.

I really liked California's system. Several weeks before the vote, they deliver a rather beefy booklet. It lists the proposed laws, with arguments for and against, and rebuttals to those arguments. It includes an analysis by the, um, I think it was the Secretary of State, describing what financial impact, if any, the particular measure would have. And in the back of the booklet is the actual text of every proposed change. All candidates are able to submit a statement saying why they should be elected, and I think the opposition is given a rebuttal argument. You should, of course, do more research, but there's a LOT of info there. It lets you understand exactly who's running and what the issues are, lets you review the exact laws in question.

The sum total of the communications I've EVER gotten from the Elections Board here in Georgia is a postcard telling me where to vote, and two letters... one telling me I had to have photo ID to vote, and a second telling me I no longer did, because the law was ruled unconstitutional. That's it. They don't even tell you what issues are on the ballot. Crazy-ass stuff.
posted by Malor at 5:19 PM on November 7, 2006

BTW, there's a Federal law that employers MUST give you (unpaid) time off to go vote if you request it. I don't remember how much, but I *think* it's four hours.

Polling places nearly always open early enough and stay open late enough to let you vote outside work hours, but if you need to vote during the day, you're allowed to by law. So there's no real need for a holiday.
posted by Malor at 5:20 PM on November 7, 2006

Yeah, Mr. Booogaloo, how do you get to vote multiple places. I have one place to vote. In a church. A church. A Baptist church even. Isn't there some sort of "lift and separate" clause with church and state or something?

Whenever I draw out this particular ax to grind to somebody new who finds nothing wrong with this I ask them how they'd like to go vote in a mosque or a bar, depending on personality . End. Of. Discussion.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:22 PM on November 7, 2006

My vote went really well, but then 2004 was the only time we had real problems. Wisconsin elections have been pretty well-run as far back as I can remember.

We switched from lever machines (still miss the frisson of physically moving machinery for my candidate!) to optical scanning, the type where you connect the parts of an arrow using a felt-tip marker. It's OK, but you only "register" your ballot, and you don't get a receipt confirming how it was counted. If they do a recount, though, they use the original (numbered) ballots -- you just hope that all the accounting for those adds up.
posted by dhartung at 5:24 PM on November 7, 2006

In Chicago, there is a significant risk of an electronic vote not being counted. This is not because the machines are easily hackable, The Sequoia brand machines we use here aren't nearly as flawed as the Diebold ones. They occasionally break but there is a pretty good set of procedures in place to fix them in god time. The problem is human error. There isn't a lot of incentive to be an election judge, and while some of them are civic minded individuals who want to make sure the election goes smoothly, many are elderly (and severely infirm), and many more are just desperate for a hundred and fifty bucks (for which you have to act like a whole community's bitch for upwards of 16 hours, including mandatory training). A lot of the judges are stubborn old curmudgeons, and more than a few came to training either drunk or or on crack. Because a large percentage of judges are afraid of the machines, or of the possibility that they'll fuck something up, many of them pretend that there is no option of voting on an electronic machine unless a disabled person lcomes through.

[/election judge trainer rant]
posted by elr at 5:34 PM on November 7, 2006

Whenever I draw out this particular ax to grind to somebody new who finds nothing wrong with this I ask them how they'd like to go vote in a mosque or a bar, depending on personality . End. Of. Discussion.

They're just public buildings with big internal spaces. I voted at a school. If it had been a mosque, I'd have been perfectly happy with that. Actually, that would be pretty cool, because I don't think non-Muslims are normally allowed to enter them. And a bar would have been better still. :-)

The votes aren't held in the church to proselytize. They're in the church because the church can handle the crowd. It's not related to the separation of church and state. The state can't have an opinion on religion, but there's nothing that says they can't hire the use of their buildings for one day a year.... just like they can rent someone's garage, as was mentioned upthread.

If they refused to rent churches, in fact, that would be MORE of a violation of the separation principle. In essence, that would be saying that religion is bad. From the government's point of view, for purposes of choosing voting locations, religious structures need to be treated exactly like any other large public building would be.
posted by Malor at 5:41 PM on November 7, 2006

Metairie, La. sample ballot, on da interwebs:
posted by winks007 at 5:42 PM on November 7, 2006

My parents vote in a bar. The place still smells of cigarette smoke when you go in to vote. It rules.
posted by zsazsa at 5:46 PM on November 7, 2006

It was chaos in Denver. I had a choice, and used the felt tip marker/fill in the ovals ballot. The Diebold machine went unused in my polling place. Everyone opted for the manual ballot. It was still read by a machine...
posted by Balisong at 5:47 PM on November 7, 2006

It was chaos in Denver. I had a choice, and used the felt tip marker/fill in the ovals ballot. The Diebold machine went unused in my polling place. Everyone opted for the manual ballot. It was still read by a machine...

Do you get a choice of polling places or is PetBoogaloo just crazy?
posted by Science! at 5:54 PM on November 7, 2006

I dunno.. Denver had the problems. I'm in Colorado Springs, and went to my normal polling place. No lines. I didn't try to go anywhere else, but I heard that in Denver they had it set up to where you could go to any of the polling spots in the area, they had no voter checklist and all the machines crashed.
posted by Balisong at 6:10 PM on November 7, 2006

Denver just got rid of the 'precinct' voting location format. Now, you can vote at any location within Denver. I'm wondering if this was where the tech issue was.

The scenario was that you would check in, they would look up on the computer what precinct you are in, and set up your voting booth accordingly. That may have been where the tech issue was. That's alot of data to look up for every voter. I really don't know. I was just a voter standing in line with many many many people in front of me.

Every place that I went to, was held up due to equipment failure, which is why I kept travelling to different 'vote centers' to cast my vote. In one of the lines that I stood in, an elderly lady fell down. The only way an elderly or disabled person could have voted today, was to have done the early voting.

I just hope that it didn't cause people to give up on voting this election. I have to say I was tempted... but then again, I'm too passionate about some of these issues.
posted by PetBoogaloo at 7:43 PM on November 7, 2006

No problems at my Florida precinct. My blog entry:

One data point amongst millions...

I voted at Pinellas County, Florida precinct 261, on Sierra Voting Systems terminal 10 of 10 (one machine, #5, was down -- from before the start of voting, I was told -- due to an intractible screen misalignment problem, I was told).

I waited about 3 minutes to sign in, using a 20 year old voc-ed ID card, which was the only thing I had on me with both a picture and a signature. I got a card, and went to stand 9th in line for a machine, which took about 8-10 minutes. I voted, and all the votes I cast showed up on the summary screen -- though without party affiliations, which was annoying, because I voted primarily party-line, and did *not* have a written copy of the ballot with me. I did recognize all the names, though, in the major elections, and it got them all right.

How they'll be counted is, of course, anybody's guess... but at least it wasn't a Diebold machine.
posted by baylink at 7:46 PM on November 7, 2006

While I live in Colorado, I voted two weeks ago. Thanks, mail-in ballot!
posted by jazon at 8:21 PM on November 7, 2006

In my precinct in Washington, I voted last week. There was no line at all. I can see problems with mail in voting, but taking time off from work isn't one of them.
posted by faceonmars at 9:57 PM on November 7, 2006

And I didn't need to show my ID.
posted by faceonmars at 9:57 PM on November 7, 2006

We voted here in the Silicon Valley. I had no problems with the voting machine, and it printed out a nice receipt, accurately reflecting what I had voted for. I didn't have any problems with the machine at all. The buggest hurdle we ran into was poll workers that spoke very little English and were about to give my girlfriend a provisional ballot instead of what she actually needed.

I had asked them for a paper ballot, and they had them available but they seemed to be running really low on them.

When my girlfriend and I left, there was a line of 15-20 people. We voted right around 6:30pm.

Overall it was a quick and trouble free experience. There was one guy that started complaining loudly about the touchscreen machines but it seems that he was literally fat fingering the entries. When he switched to using his fingertip instead of the whole finger, everything worked out fine.
posted by drstein at 10:10 PM on November 7, 2006

When I went to vote, in MD, the election judge asked the woman in front of me if I was her husband. I wonder if she was just curious or if there was a legal reason to ask.

Does everyone else get "I Voted!" stickers or is that a Maryland thing?
posted by stavrogin at 10:23 PM on November 7, 2006

Here in Pittsburgh we didn't get stickers. Made me kinda sad, too.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:29 PM on November 7, 2006

In the UK, we have little pieces of paper with the names of the candidates printed on them. Each candidate's name has an empty square next to it.

Each voter takes a ballot paper and a thick black pencil. We put a cross next to our candidate's name, fold the ballot paper and post it into the ballot box.

Later that day, somebody opens the box and sorts the ballot papers into piles for each candidate. They count the number of papers in each pile, and the candidate with the biggest pile is declared the winner.

Democracy. It's really very simple. You should try it.
posted by mr. strange at 12:49 AM on November 8, 2006

But, mr. strange, do you get stickers?
posted by stavrogin at 1:05 AM on November 8, 2006

Mr Strange:

That system would never work for the yanks:

a) it's fair
b) it requires humans to actually work and analyse
c) it hard to tamper with
d) it doesn't confuse voters enough
posted by cheaily at 2:02 AM on November 8, 2006

I voted a week ago while drinking coffee and researching the issues. I <3 absentee ballots. Then I dropped it off today so I could get my vote sticker. Because, hey, free sticker.
posted by empyrean at 2:50 AM on November 8, 2006

My wife and I vote in Delaware County, IN. As is usual with the area, we made national news because something was broken.

The problem with the start-cards for the machines was widespread throughout the the county. To be fair, the problem was quickly identified. Correcting the problem took several hours, probably due to limited manpower and the spread-out nature of the county. In any case, our precinct polling place was down only an hour or so. My wife went to vote around 7:30am and everything was running fine.

As someone who has done work in designing human interfaces/processes, I'd have to give the MicroVote system we used a solid B or B-, in terms of use/experience.
I could see how someone shorter than myself could possibly make an error lining-up the buttons along the side with the choices on the screen (not a touch-screen) and I think a screen with better off-center clarity would be a good idea. My biggest issue is that there was no ultimate feedback to assure the voter that his/her vote was cast. I think something as simple as a small paper receipt would be a good thing. Sure, it doesn't really assure anything, but it would be a more positive symbol that one had completed the process. A bit of closure. As it was, my only feedback was that the screen went dark and the blinking red lights on the machine stopped blinking when I pressed the big red button. I really had no idea if I was actually finished (especially considering all the hand-holding ceremony accorded me before the vote...check picture-ID, sign poll-book, poll worker activates machine with key-card)

When we used punch-cards, you physically placed the card in the ballot box and left the building with the stub from the card. A physical souvenir of having been involved in the process. It may be a small token, but it isn't meaningless to people.

Anyway, at least the people I voted for won this time...finally.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on November 8, 2006

Isn't there some sort of "lift and separate" clause with church and state or something?

Cross your heart and hope to die?

Mr Strange: Complacency is bad, mmkay? (I know it's an old story, but they're encouraging the use of proxy and postal voting more and more.)
posted by Grangousier at 5:28 AM on November 8, 2006

at six am, we had five or six voters waiting. and they didn't stop. there was never a point during the day when the polling place didn't have any voters in it. we ended up with 984 voters total, the highest turnout i've seen for this precinct.

of those 984, only 14 used the diebold touch screen. we had only one, and most people were more comfortable using the paper ballots and optical scanner--the wait time was much less. the paper ballots are easier for us judges to keep track of, correct errors, and easier to explain to voters, especially elderly voters. plus, we had only one machine, and it would have been easy to have a line for it if we had funneled more voters into using it. most of the people who used it requested it.

the only electronic voting problem was caused by me: i accidently gave the wrong ballot type to a voter. they went and voted, and then came back to me to complain that some of the races they wanted to vote for weren't on the ballot. i realized what i had done, but couldn't fix it because he had finished voting before telling me about it. he was kinda pissed, and i don't blame him. at least he didn't yell at me too much--and the one vote he did make counted. wished he had told me about the problem before he hit the 'register vote' button--i could have easily fixed it. i also wish that the rules would allow me to take a provisional ballot from this guy, too--but i wasn't allowed to.

we do printouts of the two machines--optical scanner and touch screen unit. one problem we would ave had with multiple touch screen units is the fact that we'd have multiple tapes from the touch screens--but a polling place needs only one optical scanner for each location. the data cartridges are (pretty much pcmcia cards that are locked into the machines with seals when we get them), are taken out and brought to the collection center, along with the used ballots and ballot applications. the touch screen unit stores the first printout into a sealed cartridge.

one of the nicer things we had this year was a hewlett packard ipac unit that contained the entire list of registered, voters--and even indicated those that had received absentee ballots. it was really easy for us to tell voters who were in the wrong polling place.

it was a long day--i worked from 5:30 to finally getting out of the drop off center at 9:30. i think i get paid something like 200 bucks or so--they gave us a raise this year.

of course, all my hard work didn't change the fact that i now have a fuckhead as *my* representative in congress that believes certain books need to be 'restricted,' evolution shouldn't be taught in schools, that a wall on the southern border will solve immigration and that the war in iraq is a good idea. just wish he remembered that he's supposed to represent everyone in his district, not just the people who voted for him.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:54 AM on November 8, 2006

It sounds like we have a pretty good system here in SF, and probably most of California. Why can't the rest of the country do something similar?

We get those huge information booklets several weeks ahead, we use paper ballots marked with a pen (they are scanned electronically but there's a solid paper trail), and we get "receipts" for our ballots. These are tabs that are torn off the ballots by the clerk right before handing them to the voters, and they have serial numbers that match the ones on the ballots. 60 days after the election, voters can call City Hall (maybe they can do this online, I'm not sure), give the ballot serial numbers, and see if their ballots were counted (this is mostly useful for provisional or absentee ballots). I doubt that many people actually do this, but it's available.

I worked at a poll yesterday and the turnout was pretty good. We don't use Diebold machines but we had one new electronic machine that simply marks the ballots without counting votes (it's intended for disabled voters who might have trouble marking a regular paper ballot). Many voters commented that they didn't trust any electronic voting machines - the knee-jerk reaction was both amusing and encouraging. (We didn't get any disable voters who actually needed the machine to cast their ballots, however.)

If hippy-dippy San Francisco can run a decent election, I'd think the rest of the country could manage it.
posted by Quietgal at 9:24 AM on November 8, 2006

if you've read this far, the actual problem in Denver was not the voting booths, as implied by the headline, and not clarified completely by the links; a handful of booths had problems, but the IT infrastructure takes most of the blame; specifically, the check-in/registration system, which consisted of four or so laptops at each polling place connected to a central server, apparently, via a single shared dialup line!

election judges reported extremely slow response verifying voter registration, and the server is said to have crashed at least twice during the day; election judges were also blamed for failing to follow instructions to quit their Internet Explorer sessions when taking breaks

the upshot was many empty voting booths as voters backed up at the registration stage; these voters were apparently unconvinced by a major effort to convince most voters to vote early or absentee

on KGNU radio's morning news[.m3u streaming audio, go to about 15:30] Mark Kavanaugh of Fair Vote Colorado described the problems, and local commentator Jason Bane [41:50 in the KGNU stream] asserted that some state-wide races could have been influenced by a reduction in turnout in Dem-heavy Denver, but not enough to change the sad defeat of a referendum to give basic rights to same-sex couples

many first person reports (not all relevant or reliable) in this and other threads at

whatever the effect of the Denver chaos, Colorado is now a Blue state
posted by sporobolus at 5:29 PM on November 8, 2006

correcting this botched this link: a referendum to give basic legal rights to same-sex couples
posted by sporobolus at 5:35 PM on November 8, 2006

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