Graphic Demonstration: Problems With Machine Recounts

We keep making the case that recounting by machine is unreliable and not up to the demands of Democracy. Kim Zetter has a readable and detailed article describing the ups and downs of the recent Palm Beach recounts. We have always said that recounting by machine can cause the same errors, if any, to simply be repeated – but Palm Beach proves that new errors can occur as well. <read>

Officials expected the machines would reject the same ballots again. But that didn’t happen. During a first test of 160 ballots, the machines accepted three of them. In a second test of 102 ballots, the machines accepted 13 of them, and rejected the others. When the same ballots were run through the machines again, 90 of the ballots were accepted…

Richman told that four ballots that had previously been rejected by a high-speed machine were examined by a county canvassing board and deemed to have clearly marked legitimate votes that should have been read by the machines. When the four ballots were run through each of the two high-speed machines again, three of the ballots were accepted and read by both machines this time, but the fourth ballot was again rejected.

Richman said the county then re-scanned two batches of 51 ballots each that had initially been rejected for having no vote cast in the judicial race, but that were found in a manual examination to contain legitimate votes for one candidate or the other. The first batch of 51 ballots were found to have legitimate votes for Abramson. The second batch of 51 ballots were found to have legitimate votes for Wennet.

In the ballots containing votes for Abramson, 11 of the 51 ballots that had previously been rejected as undervotes were now accepted by one of the machines as having legitimate votes, and the remaining 40 ballots were rejected as having no vote. In the ballots containing votes for Wennet, the same machine accepted 2 ballots and rejected 49.

The same two batches of ballots were then run through the second high-speed optical-scan machine. This time, the machine accepted 41 of the Abramson ballots as having legitimate votes (up from 11 on the other machine) and rejected 10 others. In the batch of Wennet ballots, the machine accepted 49 and rejected 2 — the exact opposite of the results from the first machine.

“We just sat there with our heads spinning,” Richman said. “It was unbelievable. Nobody has been able to explain it.”

Richman said some of the ballots that were correctly marked were rejected, while other ballots that the machines read in the test should have been rejected by the scanners. These ballots were marked with a check or “X” instead of the voter filling in the gap in a broken arrow next to the candidate’s name, as the ballot instructed


One response to “Graphic Demonstration: Problems With Machine Recounts”

  1. chrisreid

    One of the questions I have about the Kim Zetter story is whether the votes were tallied correctly when they WERE accepted by the machine.

    I get concerned when I see stories that heighten the sense that the machines are arbitrary and confusing — in this case, I can’t see that they are.

    It may be confusing if a machine rejects a ballot one time and not another, but it is not unusual to have to re-feed some ballots, especially if the marking is nonstandard.

    Tthere is no problem as long as the machine is 1) reading the ballot correctly when the machine does accept the ballot and 2)rejecting the ballot when it cannot read it, causing it to be held for hand counting. The machine may not be able to count the ballots consistently, but appears not to be making mistakes.

    It is known that sometimes anomalous marks can be read when the ballot is fed in one direction, but not read when fed in the other. Typically what is done on precinct feed machines (not central counting machines) is that the ballot is sent through again in another direction.

    Now, if the ballot were read for one candidate one time and for another the next, that would be a horse of a different color (a genuine problem).

    The op scan machines in question were made by Sequoia.

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