What's More Important: Accurate Elections Or Fast Results?

from the accuracy-is-overrated dept

As the debate continues over e-voting machines, we’re seeing some more misplaced whining over attempts to make elections more fair and accurate. In San Francisco, election officials are complaining about the rules set by California’s secretary of state, which will mean that this year’s mayoral election ballots will need to be checked and counted by hand. Effectively, that means that results for the election won’t be known for a few weeks — rather than instantly. This leads to all sorts of whining and complaining from election officials about how unfair this is — but since when should speedy results be more important than accurate vote counts? And, the problem is not the secretary of state at all (as the election officials imply). It’s because of two separate e-voting firms who refused to take the necessary steps to make sure their machines could be properly reviewed.

First, there’s Election Systems and Software (ES&S) makers of buggy e-voting machines (that they admitted in internal memos) that have been known to lose votes or count them in triplicate depending on the election. San Francisco currently uses ES&S machines to count ballots, but those machines don’t work very well — especially if the voter isn’t using exactly the right type of pen or pencil. When the secretary of state demanded that ES&S allow outside security experts to examine their machines and software, the company refused to allow it, and then finally gave in, well past the deadline, and included an angry petulent letter threatening the secretary of state. This, despite the fact that the company was caught providing uncertified equipment for the last election. With all that baggage, is it any wonder that the secretary of state would ask for a more thorough method of counting the votes?

The second e-voting firm, Sequoia, was chosen by San Francisco as a replacement vendor to get rid of the questionable ES&S machines. Of course, Sequoia has its own share of problems. Last year it was revealed that there was a button on the machines that would put the machine into “manual” mode and let you vote multiple times. Sequoia claimed this button was a feature. Reasonably, San Francisco’s board of supervisors requested that Sequoia hand over their software to be reviewed — a request which Sequoia refused. Thus, the board rejected the contract… leaving everyone in the situation they’re in today. So, while elections officials may complain about the rules for counting votes, it’s not the secretary of state they should blame, but the e-voting companies who continue to stonewall when it comes to actually making sure their machines are secure and accurate. And, in the meantime, can someone explain to elections officials that their job is to conduct fair and accurate elections, rather than elections with quick results?

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Companies: es&s

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Comments on “What's More Important: Accurate Elections Or Fast Results?”

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Franssu says:

Weeks for a manual count ?

What kind of country is that ? Aren’t there any volunteers to count the vote manually in the evening ?

In France, vote are always manual, and the results are always obtained (if there’s no irregularity) during the night. Accurate, fast. Of course it relies on the goodwill of citizen. But isn’t that the very definition of citizen to take interest in the conduct of your democracy ?

Anonymous Coward says:


Isn’t it a balance?

I mean, aren’t elections done a long time (months) before anyone will take office for exactly this reason?

So what’s the problem?

This “instant gratification” attitude needs to chill.

To give an analogy, I’d rather my bypass surgery was done accurately, but not so slowly that I die on the table.

(SF resident; voted for Matt. But was willing to give Newsome a chance until he boinked a woman married to someone else. Uncool in the extreme. SF politics blows but it’s still one of the best cities to live in.)

Overcast says:

Accuracy – should there even be a question about this?

Although, in all honesty – I think the vote’s pretty much a compromised farce anymore.

On the plus side, all the greedy political bastards are the same, so if a machine elects the wrong one, what possible difference could it make. There are no Democrats and Republicans, just winners and losers.

hehe, I agree 100%

zcat says:

How about fast and accurate?

If a state buys equal numbers of compatible (Printing and reading the paper-trail result according to a defined open voting standard) machines from three different vendors, each fitted with a printer and optical scanner, they would be able to swap the paper records between machines and count every single vote two or three times on two or three entirely different machines, getting an absolutely accurate and trustworthy result perhaps half an hour after the election closing. All under the watchful eye of volunteeds from multiple parties. And no extra cost, just buy one-third of the machines your state requires from three different vendors.

Or is half an hours too long to wait?

Mike Mixer (profile) says:

Vote by mail

Here in Oregon they send you your ballot and you mail it back.
Up till now I thought it was pretty neat until I started wondering how they were counted. The good news is if the counter is wrong there are manual counts, but still I have to wonder. In 1996 I lived in a town with a contentious race for county commissioner. One rabble rouser made it his duty to stake out the court house election night so he could catch any hanky panky. As it turns out the room holding the uncounted ballots was opened and cleaned that very night. When the lights went on the police were called by said rabble rouser and much fuss ensued. The punchline is that the cleaning crew worked from 4 am to noon and this office suddenly needed cleaning at midnight. It was never in the paper or reported anywhere else. I knew about it because my phone was used to call the cops

Max says:

Accuracy in elections is and should be the sole priority of the election system, if it is not then there is no sense in having an election.

Speed is only important to those who think self gratification is the purpose of life, like politicians. In reality, there is no requirement for speed of outcome in elections. When it comes to the Presidential election, if there is a tie, it goes to the House of Representatives for resolution which literally could take weeks (and it has in the past).

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