E-Voting Failure in Alexandria Gives Allen an Edge
Longtime Intrepid Readers know of my issues with electronic voting. So far, we in Alexandria have not been bitten by e-voting problems, despite the city’s decision to buy systems from Hart InterCivic, who have already managed to foul up one election.
Oh wait, I take that back. Turns out that this year, we’re the ones getting screwed by HIC’s incompetence:
U.S. Senate candidate James Webb’s last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.
Election officials attribute the mistake to an increase in the type size on the ballot. Although the larger type is easier to read, it also unintentionally shortens the longer names on the summary page of the ballot.
Thus, Democratic candidate Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only — or "James H. ‘Jim’ " — on summary pages in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville, the only jurisdictions in Virginia that use balloting machines manufactured by Hart InterCivic of Austin.
Yes. Our voting machines are truncating candidate’s names. How could that possibly lead to voting errors, d’ya think?
(And it doesn’t do it uniformly, either. George Allen’s name is displayed in full. Webb’s is apparently truncated because the board decided to label him "James H. ‘Jim’ Webb" rather than just "James H. Webb" or "James Webb" — both of which are shorter than "George F. Allen".)
The local election board says that this isn’t a problem, since the shortened names only show up on the "Summary" you see just before your vote is committed, not on the screen where you select your candidate. And they promise to have it fixed… by next year:
Jean Jensen, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, who said yesterday she only recently became aware of the problem, pledged to have it fixed by the 2007 statewide elections.
"You better believe it," Jensen said. "If I have to personally get on a plane and bring Hart InterCivic people here myself, it’ll be corrected."
Which I might have some confidence in, if they hadn’t known about the problem since the Hart InterCivic systems were purchased — three years ago:
Election officials in Alexandria said they have been vexed by the problem since they purchased the voting machines in 2003.
So why did they not lean on Hart InterCivic to resolve the issues before they threatened to tip the balance in a Senate race that’s currently a statistical dead heat? Why go through two general elections with faulty machines before getting on that plane?
And if they knew that long names get truncated, why throw in "Jim" on Webb’s label? Why not work around the bug and just call him "James Webb" to keep it under the limit? Why is it better to omit his last name than "Jim"?
That’s beyond pathetic: it’s simply incompetent, and unconscionable.
The Alexandria Board of Elections (who you can reach by phone at 703-838-4050, if you want to vent) should make a public statement immediately as to why this problem can’t be fixed before the election, and why they failed to test the machines properly before deploying them.