Friday, March 24, 2006

Bring back the punch card ballots?

Tuesday there was a primary election in Illinois. About 40% of Illinois' population lives in Cook County, as do I.

Cook County debuted it's new voting machines for this election. For the last thirty years, voters in America's second-most populous county used the punch card system to exercise their franchise.

After the 2000 punch card ballot debacle in Florida, Cook County began exploring replacing the punch card system.

(Here's a little-known fact: portions of the 2000 Cook County ballot even used a butterfly ballot, the type of ballot that caused enormous confusion in Palm Beach County, Florida.)

Six years after the 2000 election, Cook has new voting equipment. Not just one type, but two: touch screen and optical scan.

When I presented myself to the election judges on Tuesday at Morton Grove's 99th precinct, I told them I wanted to use the touch screen ballot. (The optical scan ballots reminded me too much of stressful exams I took during my school days.)

Sorry, Mr. Ruberry, it's not working. You have to use the optical scan ballot.

So I did, the judge handed me the necessary voting pen, and I was done in five minutes.

The vote counters in Cook County are not done. Three days after the voting ended, only 88% of the ballots have been counted. As far as I can gather, the missing 12% won't sway results enough to change the projected winners in Cook County of the rest of Illinois.

A disgraceful situation.

According to media reports, the primary cause of the tabulation snafu is the inability of election judges to combine the totals of the optical scan and touch screen machines.

Cook County Clerk David Orr, who is in charge of suburban Cook's elections is blaming the vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems. Sequoia is blaming inadequate training of judges.

The County has the upper hand in this battle, since it has paid Sequoia only $8 million of a $26 million contract.

Hopefully in the next seven-and-a-half months before the general election, all the bugs will be worked out with the new equipment. If not, did the County throw away all those punch card machines?

Back to Florida and that refrain we heard in 2000:

But the first thing we need to do is count all the votes!

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