New Study Shows Massive Error Rates In E-Voting Machines

from the that-can-swing-an-election dept

Just as e-voting firm Sequoia is resisting having its machines reviewed independently, the Brookings Institute has put a bunch of e-voting machines to the test, and found error rates around 3% on some of the machines. These weren't errors due to software problems, but usability problems, where the design of the system resulted in people voting for a candidate they did not want. 3% is a huge number, and could easily change the results of an election. While the study found that people generally like e-voting technology, that still doesn't mean it's particularly effective. One other interesting part of the finding: when there was a voter-verified paper trail, it didn't cut down on errors. This suggests that many voters were either confused or didn't even bother to verify their vote. This should all be very worrisome. Even ignoring the technology problems that these machines have been shown to have, the fact that the design tends to create so many mistake votes should lead people to seriously question the use of e-voting machines.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    zcat, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:30pm

    failure rate of paper ballots?

    Has a similar study been done on the old 'tick the box' ballot? Perhaps voters are just careless in general..

     

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    Some Guy, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:31pm

    Voter mistakes

    If you can't be bothered to be _sure_ of your vote, then you should be barred from voting for life.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:36pm

    Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves . . .

    As Franklin said:

    "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"

    Same is true in regards to "convienience."

    If you don't CARE enough about as something as important as your own vote then you deserve NONE of the benifits of this country.

    Especially since your vote doesn't just affect you.

    The level of apathy and just general lack of respect and responsibility in this country pains me at times.

     

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      Italian Revolutionary, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 11:27am

      Re: Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves .

      Actually, the FFs wouldn't be surprised at all: the percentage of qualified voters in the first elections of the newly minted USofA was on the order of 50%. Seems to me that grousing about lackadaisical voters conveniently ignores this. I'm worried that the people who DO show up have access to voting machines or paper ballots or semaphore flags if that's what's passing for voting in their districts. Not enough machines, polling booths, polling places, and dirty-tricks phone calls disenfranchise a measurable number of voters. Whether it's as great as that of inaccurate polling machines, I don't know. But to me it is very worrisome. Garibaldi

       

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      Jesse Sheinwald, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 12:36pm

      Re: Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves .

      That's Jefferson not Franklin. The statement still holds true.

       

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    zcat, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:38pm

    and...

    If you can't be bothered to vote (hey, can we talk about the 60-odd % of voters who can't even haul their ass down to a polling booth?) then you should be... umm...

    I don't think barring them for life is going to have the desired effect.

     

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    BubbaLove, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:47pm

    I agree with #1, and it's why I'm bothering to comment. I'm no fan of any of the e-voting technology, but I'd hardly say that paper ballots are the answer to this particular problem. If you have trouble using an ATM, chances are that regardless if it's a paper ballot or an e-voting machine, you're probably going to flub something. The error-correction thing is just a piece of the human condition - we're programmed with a little carelessness in mind, because face it, sometimes it's helpful.

     

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    Hellsvilla, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 8:58pm

    One mans error

    One mans "error" is another man's swing vote.

     

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    zcat, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 9:10pm

    crazy thought here...

    Perhaps the error was actually 6%, but 3% of voters couldn't correctly explain to the researchers how they'd intended to vote :)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2008 @ 11:03pm

    Cut to the chase. Just Let UTX (United Technologies Corp) buy Diebold. We know your pissed at McCain.

    Where do the companies come from? What did UTX start?

    Your not fooling anyone.

     

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    Chaz, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 12:28am

    Hmm

    So basically when Bush was being re-elected they ignored these problems, but now that Obama is about to win they'll use that 3% to fudge the numbers in Hillary's direction. Or at least that's what I'd do if I was evil.

     

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    Codename Edinburgh, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 12:41am

    We'll fix it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 1:04am

    LOL after googling "Codename edinburgh" I saw another one of those great Apple viral ads!

    Check it out before it goes away:
    http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=334

     

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    Bill M, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 2:14am

    Usability

    It's hard to imagine that error rates on one brand of e-voting technology is applicable to ALL e-voting. Surely there could be a user interface that would result in even higher error rates. Ergo, you could design one with lower rates. Similarly the paper receipt could be more usable. One thing that you might do is have to enter a confirmation code from the receipt into the machine to verify that you've reviewed the paper copy. The problem is that we don't rigorously review the technology itself enough.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 5:37am

    It seems to me the results show that there is about 3% of the population too stupid to vote. I would have thought that number higher.

     

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    cutter892, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 7:28am

    A few different points.

    3% error rate? Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't that the usual error rate when you read poll numbers? The fact that 3% of the people who vote are careless enough not to double check what the machine says is kinda sad. Whats worse is the 60% of people who do not vote complain the loudest when things don't go the way they want. To those people I say this, You have no right to complain about anything. If you can't spend a little time to research the cadidates and go vote you have no right to complain about what the government is doing. On the other hand the people who did go and vote have all the right in the world to complain when there elected officals are not doing what they said they woul.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 1:26pm

      Re: A few different points.

      Whats worse is the 60% of people who do not vote complain the loudest when things don't go the way they want. To those people I say this, You have no right to complain about anything.

      The point that you're missing is that those in the %60 who supposed didn't vote really did vote. They voted with their feet for "None of the above". It's not the fault of the voter if there are no candidates worth voting for.

       

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      I agree with cutter892, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 1:52pm

      Re: A few different points.

      On the other hand the people who did go and vote have all the right in the world to complain when there elected officals are not doing what they said they woul.
      Only the people who voted for the winning candidate have a right to complain. Losers are just that: losers.

      In other words, democrats have no right to complain about republicans in office and vice versa. If you're a democrat we already know you don't like the republican who won the election so just shut up already. You didn't elect him anyway. It was republicans who put him in office and those are the only ones he's obligated to listen to now. If he doesn't do what he said he would that made you vote for him then you, as someone who actually voted for him, have something to complain about.

       

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        SilverWolf, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re: A few different points.

        Actually the opposite is true, if you voted to elect the SOB then you have no right to complain when he screws the country over.

        After all, you are the one who put him in office, not the people who voted for the other guy.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 7:45am

    Cutter said:
    "3% error rate? Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't that the usual error rate when you read poll numbers?"

    Polling error rates are due to the fact that small sample size results are projected upon the entire population, thus predicting an outcome.
    In the article, the error rate is measured.

     

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    Bob Lake, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 7:48am

    Electronic Voting Machines

    If voter-verified paper trails don't change the results, why would anyone think that traditional paper ballots or voting machine balloting would be any different.

    As to the "huge" 3% differential, yes it is huge. But if the mistakes are more or less divided among the different voters and candidates, then it is unlikely to make any difference except in VERY close elections

     

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    Dan, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 7:54am

    Expectations are too high.

    Be reasonable. Do you really expect people who CANNOT find the United States on a World Map, to be able to find a candidate on a ballot???

    Maybe you could try putting pictures of candidates on e-voting machines? You know, kind of how McDonald's has picture menus for those who cannot read?

    Or you might stop pouring billions annually into the education abyss, and thus force back-to-basics, and use savings to improve voting technology.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 8:04am

    Bush really won that election fair and square... He would never cheat!

     

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    wmarkh, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 8:18am

    You say this like it is a bad thing

    So what you are saying is that voters who are challenged by something as simple as an voting machine may vote for the wrong candidate? This means the vote will be biased toward the more intelligent party. FINALLY we are getting systems in place to qualify voters!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 8:29am

    Enter a check mark here if you do not want this measure to not be disapproved.

     

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    John Adams, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 10:09am

    Why is this a problem? If this is a user error then statistically it would be spread across all canidates thus in the end it would equal out.

    And until you have somthing to compare this too (i.e. the error rates of current voting systems) wh y is this even being discussed?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 1:35pm

      Re:

      And until you have somthing to compare this too (i.e. the error rates of current voting systems) wh y is this even being discussed?

      Yeah, what he said. Shut up saying bad things about voting machines.

      (Disclosure: I own voting machine company stock)

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 10:15am

    Too much junk on a ballot => higher error rate. D

    i suspect the problem also has to do with the sheer volume of things we vote on, in general elections.

    for key positions such as governor, senator, and president, there should be only the one position being voted on.

    congressmen and initiatives should be on a separate ballot.

    a good e-vote w/paper trail solution could make it easier to vote more frequently. And there are some absolutely simple tamper proof e-vote w/paper trail systems. We don't use them, but they exist. The trick is in the paper.

     

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    Ed B, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 10:58am

    Voting Machines

    Is this a problem with the voting machines or a problem with the voter?

     

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      Funky Al., Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 3:29pm

      Re: Voting Machines

      Given that most voters are uninformed of the issues, does it really matter that the vote they cast was not the one they intended to cast?

       

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    Ed B, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 11:01am

    Voting Machines

     

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    Ed B, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 11:03am

    Voting Machines

    Here is an idea. Lets have each voter bring a professional vote-puter-inner and verbally tell the pro whom he wishes to vote for. Then let the pro enter the vote. Shouldn't take more than 3 or 4 weeks to hold an election.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    from above:
    "If he doesn't do what he said he would "

    Ummm, help me out here ......
    I'm trying to recall the last time a politician followed through with what was promised.
    All I remember are the (many) times that the opposite happened.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 3:26pm

    New study shows massive error rate in human brains.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 7:14pm

    Quit complaining about complainers

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2008 @ 8:22pm

    BULLSHIT!

     

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    Chas, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 5:32am

    Some people are stupid

    Some people are too stupid to vote.
    Some people are too stupid to drive cars.
    Some people are too stupid to operate power tools.
    Unfortunatly these people aren't too stupid to reproduce.

     

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    David Frenkel, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 5:36am

    Voting machine integrtity

    Americas democratic infrastructure is arcane and dangerously vulnerable to fraud and criminal interference. Take a look at the TV program at www.independentvoices.net which covers the vast disparity between exit polls and the official results in 2004. This all adds up to a need for radical reform of the mechanics of elections in America,

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 8:18am

    And so now we have proof that the electoral college is actually needed.

     

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    Jim, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 8:46am

    There is no perfect system

    After the 2000 election, and again leading up to the Gray Davis recall election, many invoked the sanctity of the vote as the reason we had to overhaul the election system, lest anyone be "disenfranchised." Studies of paper ballots indicated error rates between 2% and 4%. The issue is not technology. Systems dependent on the uncoordinated actions of many people are inherently error-prone. Voting, which is inherently individualistic, is no exception. The best we can do is have back-up plans, such as recounts and paper records, for those occasions where the original vote is within around 5%. These backup plans will have their own errors. No system will guarantee a result acceptable to all where the count is within 500 votes out of millions, ala Florida 2000.

     

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    Mac, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 9:22am

    This just in...

    "Another new study shows that 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the population. ( +/- 3% error rate )."

    Seriously, what a crock of BS this is. This 3% error rate is obviously human error. Even the article states that.

    "These weren't errors due to software problems, but usability problems, where the design of the system resulted in people voting for a candidate they did not want."

    The design of paper ballots causes the same issue. It's not the voting machine, IT'S THE VOTER. I hate press that insinuates there are problems with the electronic voting machines, such as the title of this article does.

    Harumph!

     

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    Kevin, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 10:45am

    Man, if they Republicans cheat again in 2008, this is the way to do it! Third time is a charm...

     

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    John, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 11:23am

    3% is an improvement!

    The 3% error rate for e-voting is an improvement over paper voting. I recall previous studies of paper voting resulting in error rates as high as 5%.

     

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    Wm. Stover, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 11:32am

    eVote

    Did the total equal the Summation? Rumors are that totlization resultws in even reater errors.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 11:35am

    So, what some of you are saying is the easily hacked, no verification, take it home to play with voting machines are A-ok with you because the errors are human and not machine.

    Am I the only one that has a problem with this ?

     

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    Tony, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 12:25pm

    No less perfect than paper ballots!

    Come on Mike. It seems to me that a 3% margin of error is no worse than with paper ballots. I'm willing to bet that the error was even higher than that during certain 'paper' elections. Can you say "Hanging Chad", "Pregnant Chad". Voters have always had trouble with voting systems, regardless of being paper or electronic. If 3% is enough to stop using electronic systems, then perhaps we should just stop voting until we have a "perfect" system.

     

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    Cutter892, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 12:31pm

    Multiple replies

    Instead of doing a bunch of different replies I'm just going to do it in one post.
    First not voting is voting: This is bull what a lot of people are looking for is the "perfect candidate". There is no such thing. Yes there are people that we may agree with on a lot of things but not everything. Not voting is being lazy. Sometimes its just better to vote for the person you think you agree with the most and holding that persons feet to the fire when you don't If nothing else if possible run yourself if you are elegible.

    Second: Winners/loosers can't complain: Yes both can. Because those who voted for the winner can complain when said person doesn't follow through on what they say. Those who lost can still complain because they at least tried to get the person they wanted elected and will continue to make there points to the people (if the listen) and try and get things to change.

    I think the biggest problem are country is facing right now is that there are only two parties involved. Are founding fathers I don't think intended for this to happen but it has. I think though as more and more people become disillsioned with either party I can see one or more parties rising to power. Which wouldn't be a bad thing it would mean people would have to do more reasearch.

     

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      Revolutionary Italian, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 1:38pm

      Re: Multiple replies

      Actually, the FFs, for the most part, wanted NO parties.

      "Faction" or "parties" indicated that representatives were not acting with virtue, i.e. they did not have the best interests of the Commonwealth, but rather were governed by their own private views.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 10:04am

      Re: Multiple replies

      First not voting is voting: This is bull what a lot of people are looking for is the "perfect candidate". There is no such thing. Yes there are people that we may agree with on a lot of things but not everything. Not voting is being lazy.
      It's not about looking for a "perfect candidate". It's about there being no candidate that's even acceptable. That's a big difference. There is no reason people should put their voter "stamp of approval" on some unacceptable party lackey just to satisfy the likes of you. What you have people do otherwise, go to the polls and then just turn around leave without voting for anyone? That's just plain STUPID. No, refusing to vote for an unacceptable candidate isn't lazy; it's the patriotic duty of every good citizen. If there's someone a person does want to vote for, they'll generally find their way to the poll to do so.

      Because those who voted for the winner can complain when said person doesn't follow through on what they say. Those who lost can still complain because they at least tried to get the person they wanted elected and will continue to make there points to the people (if the listen) and try and get things to change.
      Every citizen has a right to complain. You need to read the US constitution sometime my fascist little friend. It's covered by things like the right to petition the government and freedom of speech. Those rights are not limited, as you would seem to like, to those who can prove that they voted for one of the officially offered candidates in the last election. You may not like it, but that's the way it is. And while you might like for everyone who won't play your game to just "shut up", that's not the way it works either.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 2:51pm

    I worry about Hillary's massive error rates in recalling the truth. Do you?

    Hillary in Tuzla: The Tale of Bosnian Sniper Fire (TRAILER)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It6JN7ALF7Y

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 3:46pm

    Revolutionary Italian said:
    .... but rather were governed by their own private views.

    and their fears were warranted.
    I suppose you could say this is a representative government, however it is not the will of the people that is being represented.

     

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    Bah who needs one, Mar 23rd, 2008 @ 4:23pm

    Not strictly related, but ...

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=19248375&postID=5418832287881365472&page=1

    That whole blog needs serious checking out by Masnick & co. -- not only have we got the usual misunderstanding of business models here, right down to the nonsense phrase "steal content", but a serious control-freak attitude in general that, if widely adopted by web site operators, would doom web 3.0 and destroy most of the value of the existing web, as well as locking in a small search engine oligopoly of only the existing big search companies.

    Of course, they're also openly advocating cloaking different content to search engines than gets shown to humans, which would make the search engines utterly worthless to users anyway as what they found and linked to would no longer bear any reliable correspondence to what the user actually searched for.

    A Techdirt article specifically on how it's both evil and stupid to try to completely lock down one's web site seems to be overdue. :)

    On the topic, it's worth noting that Sequoia has been intimidating third-party reviewers of its machines and source code with specious threats of copyright-infringement lawsuits, and claiming falsely that simply describing the behavior of its machines could infringe copyright.

    This kind of copyright misuse needs to be stopped, whether by Sequoia or by J. Random Webmaster.

     

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    identicon
    xyzzy, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 4:49am

    It's not the bolt that holds the engine; it's the nut that holds the wheel.

     

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    Overcast, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 6:44am

    The errors aren't important though. What is important is that politicians have control over those who have control of the databases and manufacture of this machine.

    Why do people go on and on about these 'problems' with voting machines like it's some issue with 'fairness'? The problems aren't a concern of those in charge - being able to manipulate the vote is the core concern and I'm sure they work quite well for that.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 7:29am

    My solution

    It's simple, each person votes TWICE. Once
    to vote and once to verify their vote.

    If the votes don't match a trap door drops
    open and they fall onto the rotating knives
    to be flushed into the sewer system.

    Voters would tend to be more careful and
    those incapable would be culled.

    MWUAH HA HA HA!

     

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    identicon
    Jotteth; The ParkerDid You and Will You try Write-, Mar 24th, 2008 @ 9:50am

    Write-In Vote Tabulation

     

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