Voting flaws

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

A Georgia congressman says faulty voting machines are a problem all over, and election officials are not necessarily to blame for Fulton County’s election-day problems. But Georgia’s Secretary of State disputes that claim. He will hold a meeting next month to address the county’s lack of preparation, which resulted in long lines and other problems during the primary and general elections.

Commenting is open below Brian P. Kemp’s column.

By Hank Johnson

Reports of serious errors occurring Election Day in electronic-voting machines in Fulton County demonstrate the urgency of passing legislation to verify the accuracy of our voting systems.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp called Fulton County’s election administration a “debacle,” noting that this is yet another example of “the constant and systemic nature of election failures in Fulton County.”

During this summer’s primary elections, several Fulton County precincts also reported a substantial disparity between registered voters and ballots. Voting-machine errors resulted in voter turnouts that exceeded 100 percent in some precincts. This figure is astronomical when compared to the statewide turnout that averaged between 10 and 20 percent. But one precinct had an impossible turnout of 23,300 percent.

These kinds of problems with voting machines are precisely why I introduced H.R. 6246, the Verifying Official Totals for Elections (VOTE) Act. Not only does it improve our confidence in election data through transparency and accountability, more importantly, it assures accuracy.

Let me be clear: I don’t blame Fulton Elections Interim Director Sharon Mitchell for these problems. Machine errors like Fulton County’s are a common problem in elections nationwide and could have been present in the 158 other counties in Georgia.

ABC News reports that “failed and faulty e-voting machines” were the likely culprit behind long election lines and other voting problems on Election Day.

Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on elections and voting, calls these faulty voting machines “an electronic version of the lever,” which was the basis of so much controversy in the 2000 Florida election.

In one widespread report confirmed by MSNBC, a miscalibrated voting machine used in Pennsylvania in the Nov. 6 election repeatedly did not allow the voter to properly select a desired candidate. Election officials later removed this machine for recalibration.

Joseph Hall, the senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology, also pointed out on Twitter that this happens often, but there’s no way of knowing whether it’s the result of malicious hacking or simply an error with the machine or user.

It’s the lack of answers to these questions that concerns me most, and why I introduced the VOTE Act. This legislation would help allay these concerns by creating an audit procedure for machine errors much like the one reported on Election Day.

The VOTE Act targets the source code and technical data that makes up the nuts and bolts of voting-machine code, allowing an auditor to know how a machine counted votes in a disputed election, and whether the machine was compromised by tampering or through user error.

Most importantly, the VOTE Act would provide Americans with peace of mind that vote totals in federal elections are precise and accurate.

Hank Johnson, a DeKalb County Democrat, represents Georgia’s 4th congressional district.

Fulton numbers speak volumes

By Brian P. Kemp

In September, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at Mays High School in Atlanta. Before I spoke, I listened to a debate and was struck by a statement made by one of the participants. He said, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie.”

This statement applies perfectly to the situation that the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections finds themselves in year after year. While every cycle presents issues while administrating elections, Fulton County stands alone in the consistency and depth of their problems.

Let us look at a few numbers to start. While Fulton is Georgia’s largest county, Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb are not far behind in population. This past Election Day, DeKalb citizens cast 1,029 provisional ballots. Gwinnett citizens cast 1,296 provisional ballots. Fulton citizens cast a whopping 9,575 provisional ballots. This means that 9,575 people were not allowed to vote using the normal procedure. Even more concerning are the number of complaints we have received from citizens who have said they were not offered the option of casting a provisional ballot, but were turned away from the polling place without a chance for their voices to be heard.

It is well documented that Fulton County’s issues this election cycle stem from the fact that they were weeks behind processing voter registration forms. Because of this, thousands of legal and valid voters were not entered into the registration rolls and were often pushed to vote a provisional ballot. While Fulton assured the state that any voters who were not entered into the system would be listed on a supplemental list and able to vote using the normal process, this did not happen. Poll workers were not trained on using supplemental lists that were compiled, and some lists were not even delivered to polling places until the middle of election day.

This lack of action and preparation resulted in long lines, confused voters and poll workers, and an unprecedented number of provisional ballots. Many polling places ran out of provisional ballots, and voters were forced to wait hours for new forms to be provided by Fulton County, or simply left without voting.

This is absolutely unacceptable, and the idea that these issues happen in other Georgia counties of similar size is not true.

It is time that Fulton County’s elected officials and elections staff take responsibility for the county’s shortcomings and give its citizens the safe and secure elections they deserve.

I have called a special meeting of the bi-partisan State Elections Board on Jan. 31 in Atlanta to address the numerous issues that happened in Fulton County during the primary and general elections this year. Fulton will have the chance to defend itself and justify the action (or inaction) that resulted in a cycle I have referred to as a debacle. I stand behind this categorization.

Women lie. Men lie. In Fulton, the numbers speak for themselves.

Brian P. Kemp is Georgia Secretary of State.

6 comments Add your comment

nelson

December 22nd, 2012
5:44 pm

Votng as a means of electing officials to government has had its time and place. Now is the time for change, a new way for choosing leaders. much like the BCS way of determining a national champion in football.
All relative facts are programmed into a computer and the computer will choose who will be the nations leaders.
This will guarantee that only the highest qualified people will command.
All the billions of dollars spent on campaigning will be unneeded. This will work, give it a lttle thought.

Chamique

December 21st, 2012
1:11 pm

I frequently disagree with Hank Johnson however I am 100% with him on the VOTE Act. Political leaders from both parties need to get behind this legislation and pass it before the next election. This should’ve been done years ago.

Any politician or government official who would resist transparency in voting machine results, such as a paper trail, is not trustworthy.

An Observer

December 21st, 2012
10:59 am

As a Fulton county poll manager I can attest to the fact that Hank Johnson is wrong and that the voting machines work very reliably. I can also attest that Brian Kemp is also wrong in that Fulton county poll workers were trained on the use of supplemental lists. We do not need politicians misrepresenting issues to the public in order to get media attention. A little honesty on the part of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kemp would be a big help.

I can also attest that we will continue to see an increase in provisional ballot voting as voters learn that they can vote anywhere they choose by using the provisional ballot. Fulton county voters have just caught on to this fact a little sooner than Cobb and Gwinnett voters. Students at Georgia Tech and Georgia State know that they can simply show up at the polling places located on campus and vote without the need to go back to their homes, or request an absentee ballot.

MANGLER

December 21st, 2012
10:34 am

Yeah, using electronic voting machines that don’t provide a paper trail for the voter or the State was a wonderful idea! Every other transaction that one performs provides a receipt. Why not voting? Hmmm? Is it so problems can occur and votes can be rigged? And by the way, nation wide, the long lines and the largest disparities were in urban areas and minority precincts. That’s not a coincidence.

CDW

December 20th, 2012
8:57 pm

I agree that the newly appointed election director is not to be blamed but it is obvious that some or most of the current election staff do not know how to do their jobs and probably don’t care. Someone must enter the voter information into the state system timely and someone must program and check the computers that are used to cast the votes. Most of the problems that the congressman points out are the failure of someone. He is too apt to gloss over the human failings rather than insist they be acknowledged and corrected by the Fulton County Board.

SAWB

December 20th, 2012
8:03 pm

Well, it seems like we have two different issues here.
1) The Fulton county elections are a joke and something must be done to assure problems do not reoccur. This may mean the State of Georgia supervising their operation until they are competent enough to handle it on their own.

2) As for the voting machines Mr. Johnson may have a valid point, but why do we only see the widespread problems in Fulton County? I have no doubt that there are occasional machine flaws which I assume are easily corrected. However, to blame the incompetence in Fulton County on the same machines that are used successfully in other areas of the State is bizarre. Of course maybe all that work to save Guam has resulted in exhaustion for Hank.