… clerks are pressuring voters to use touchscreen machines!
By Marianne Moonhouse
Paper Ballots provide a verifiable paper trail in case there is need for a recount or ballot impoundment. Voters can be more confident that their votes are counted as cast if they are counted by hand rather than by a machine. Even though there is slim chance of getting 100% voters to use paper ballots in this election, any increase is positive change, as more voters are made aware of the dangers of touchscreen voting. An increase in the number of people requesting paper ballots will also let the clerks know that citizens are paying attention, and remind them of whom they are supposed to be serving.
In April 2011, voting machine vendor Command Central of St Cloud, MN sent flyers to Wisconsin clerks advertising discounted prices on refurbished AVC Edge touchscreen (DRE) machines and Optech Insight (optical scan) voting machines. In August, municipal clerks in Oneida County were asked to trade in their existing ES&S AutoMark machines for AVC Edge touchscreens (more expensive), “at no extra charge.” By late summer, Command Central was making “Two for One” offers, proposing that clerks exchange their existing Optech Insight machine for two AVC Edge touchscreen machines.
Command Central made many successful transactions with Wisconsin clerks in the past year, though the full range and scope of their dealings have not yet been determined. Investigators discovered that municipalities around the state, and entire counties, such as Grant and Barron, have added AVC Edge II touchscreen machines into their systems, in many cases to replace their optical scan (paper ballot) machines. This is alarming, as optical scan machines provide at least the potential for a verifiable paper trail, while touchscreen machines do not (despite what the GAB and Command Central claim).
What hasn’t been widely reported or discussed is that a surprisingly large number of Wisconsin counties have been using AVC Edge touchscreen machines, without optical scan machines, since before the 2011 Command Central transactions. A review of the 2010 GAB voting equipment database clearly reveals that it has not been updated to reflect the changes made to the Wisconsin voting system in the past year. At this point it appears those revisions will not take place before June 5, 2012 recall election.
The database lists 41 Wisconsin counties that use a “certified” voting system of paper ballots in combination with HAVA-accessible DRE/touchscreen machines (mostly AVC Edge II’s). When asked if the generic “paper ballot” designation (with no brand or model name noted) indicated traditional paper ballots that could be hand-counted, election integrity investigator John Washburn confirmed, “If the primary voting system is listed as paper ballots then they are hand marked, hand counted ballots.”
During interviews with 38 of the 41 county clerks, they also confirmed—some readily, some reluctantly—that in municipalities where touchscreens are the only voting machines offered, citizens also have an option to vote on hand-marked paper ballots. These ballots are put into a locked box and hand counted at the end of the election. Some or all of the municipalities in these 41 counties will be using the hand-counted paper ballot and HAVA-accessible touchscreen voting system in the June 5, 2012 recall election.
Wisconsin Citizens for Election Protection (WCEP) received numerous complaints from 2011 Senate recall election observers, as well as after the May 8, 2012 primary election, of clerks and poll workers pressuring citizens to vote on touchscreen machines. Degrees of pressure ranged from, “Would you like to use the touchscreen machine?” without mentioning other options, to being automatically directed to the touchscreen machines. There were even cases of poll workers trying to talk voters out of using paper ballots. While some clerks do inform each voter of their options, many automatically direct voters to touchscreens. This is a widespread problem in areas that have a hand-counted ballot option.
A Barron County voter said that while paper ballots were on the voting table for the GOP primary, they were nowhere to be seen for the May 8 recall primary. She was handed a ticket stamped “DRE” with her voter number on it, then physically led to the touchscreen machine. At least when she asked for a paper ballot instead, the clerk retrieved one from behind the table.
A voter from Chetek wrote, “While the clerk didn’t balk when I asked for a paper ballot, the point is I had to ask. My mom also had to ask. She can barely walk and they sent her on a wild goose chase all over the big room. An official came up to her after she cast her ballot to tell her the machines are safe. My mom thanked him and said she was glad she used paper.”
More reports of this nature came from around the state: one village in Marinette County had 80% of the votes cast on touchscreen machines; a town in Polk County ran out of paper ballots; in Shawano County, a voter also had to ask the clerk to “reboot” the voting machine so the names would show up on his screen; and in a city in St Croix county, the clerk also violated a citizen’s poll observation rights by forcing her to stay in a 4′ x 6′ area from which she could not view the proceedings. Voters are also being pressured to use touchscreens in parts of Wisconsin where optical scan and touchscreen machines are both available, often due to long lines or ballot shortages.
In order to instigate reform in our voting systems, we must first and foremost get as many people to the polls on Election Day. But along with this, we must raise public awareness, and encourage voters to ask for and insist on a paper ballot once they get there.