I Marked Dozens of Ballots

On election night, I worked at the vote tabulator machine in our county courthouse for ten hours.  The machine was a total disaster.

I was supposed to be an election “watcher”, keeping an eye on how things were working as part of our voter integrity project.  But our county’s ES&S 650 tabulator machine was so dysfunctional that I, and two other election “judges” (one Democrat, one Republican), ended up manhandling the machine and the ballots until 2 am just to get the vote count for our county done.

Our tabulator machine jammed and rejected ballots continually.  Our election official had to mark hundreds of ballots with a sharpie just to get the machine to recognize them as ballots.  For a while we had bipartisan remediation teams who negotiated and fixed ballots that were poorly marked or had overvotes.  When they left, we had to fix them at the machine on the fly.  I personally marked dozens of ballots to make them acceptable to our tabulating machine – darkening circles, fixing cross-outs, whiting-out overvotes, etc.

Phones were ringing – our secretary of state and news media wanted final counts.  Pressure mounted.  Ballots flew all over.  Scans and re-scans and more re-scans.  By the time we finished at 2 am, we were exhausted.

We unpaid volunteers worked our butts off, and without us the count would never have been completed.  Did I see any corruption?  Absolutely not.  Was there opportunity for corruption?  Hell yes!  Do I have confidence in the quality of the count?  Not much.  Who knows how many ballots were not counted, or were duplicate counted?

Earlier in the week, we ran a test batch of ballots through our tabulator in which nearly half the candidates and issues on the ballots were miscounted by the machine, according to triple-checked manual audits.

This year there was much attention paid to voter integrity before the election, and competing claims about whether or how much chicanery was happening at the polls.  What many of us learned is that the problems are not in the front of the house.  They are in the back, where the ballots are counted.

While I did not see any evidence of intentional fraud at our county, in our small town, where friends and neighbors treat each other with respect and honesty, I can’t vouch for the many other counties nationwide using the same dysfunctional ES&S 650 tabulator system.  And with or without intentional vote fraud, the integrity of the process and count results is not good.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

If you need someone to count on, count me in
Someone you can rely on through thick and thin
When you start to count the ones that you might ever doubt
If you think of counting me, count me out

Count Me In – Gary Lewis and the Playboys

4 thoughts on “I Marked Dozens of Ballots

  1. The difference between voter fraud and election fraud is important. Who was it that said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter who votes, it’s who counts the votes that matters.” Stalin? Lenin?

    Something you mentioned is really sending up red flags – you were whiting out over votes? And fixing cross-outs??? Aren’t those considered “spoiled ballots”? I was under the impression that a spoiled ballot was to be marked as such and destroyed – not counted. HUH????

    • According to our instructions, a pure overvote (clearly voting for more choices in one category than is allowed) is disqualified. But the rest of the ballot is to be counted. So the remediation is to cover the disqualified votes with a white-out sticker and re-scan the ballot. This should be performed by a bipartisan, pre-selected pair of election judges. A voter should request a new ballot if his/her ballot has an accidental overvote or other anomaly. Many voters do not, and will instead cross out the incorrect choice. If the voter’s intent is clear, our instruction was to white-out the incorrect mark, rather than disenfranchise the voter. If the voter’s intent is not clear, that vote should be disqualified, but not the entire ballot. Whiting out and re-scanning has the same effect as re-writing the entire ballot. Both approaches were used by our judges. The judges recorded these remediations in a log report. In some cases if a ballot mark was not dark enough to be read, or if there was a bleed through from the other side that made a ballot unreadable, the marks were darkened or the bleed-throughs covered.

  2. Everyone should try to work an election at least once. It will open your eyes to all the possibilities for voter fraud and just how easy it is. Fraudulent absentee ballots are a piece of cake for the devious.

  3. Thanks for doing that, Tom. You seem to be donating hours to several different civic activities (elections, school board) and we appreciate your dedication to making things better. I don’t worry too much about election fraud here for the very reasons you stated, but we can’t assume that it’s like that everywhere.

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