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.
October 24, 2006
It is the candidate, not the State Board of Elections or the local Electoral Board, who chooses how his name appears on the ballot. If Jim Webb had chosen to have his name appear on the ballot as “James Webb” or “Jim Webb,” this would not be an issue.
If you read the Washington Post story carefully, you will note that Hart Intercivic has already addressed this software glitch (which they have been aware of for quite some time). The software upgrade for version 6.0 of the Hart eSlate has been submitted to the Commonwealth of Virginia for certification. (Every time the software, hardware, or firmware for voting machines is changed, regardless of the reason, it must go through a rigorous certification process by the state.) Certification has been delayed but will be in place in time for elections in 2007.
In the meantime, following Charlottesville’s example, Alexandria and Falls Church election officials will be posting signs in each voting booth that explains precisely to voters what to expect when the summary screen appears. The same sign will also be displayed at the entrance to each precinct, where the demonstrator machines are located, and election officials are instructed to explain the summary screen to voters who ask about it.
You should know that this only became an issue after _voters_ requested that the font size on the Hart eSlate should be increased, so that names and other information would be more readable. When the new problem arose, Hart Intercivic immediately began to address it — although, as noted above, the certification process has slowed implementation of the solution.
This is hardly an “e-voting failure.” In fact, it demonstrates quite clearly how the process works to meet the needs and desires of voters.
October 24, 2006
“It is the candidate, not the State Board of Elections or the local Electoral Board, who chooses how his name appears on the ballot. If Jim Webb had chosen to have his name appear on the ballot as “James Webb” or “Jim Webb,” this would not be an issue.”
Were Webb’s people notified of the fact that the systems would truncate the name after a certain number of characters when they submitted how they wanted the name to be posted?
The article indicates that they only learned of the issue a week ago — long after they had submitted the name for the ballot. That’s a screw-up.
“The software upgrade for version 6.0 of the Hart eSlate has been submitted to the Commonwealth of Virginia for certification…”
Hey that’s great. In the meantime I’m sure Hart InterCivic and the various boards of elections have been working with candidates to ensure that important things like last names don’t get dropped from the displays, by letting everybody know about the issue. Right?
“In the meantime, following Charlottesville’s example, Alexandria and Falls Church election officials will be posting signs in each voting booth that explains precisely to voters what to expect when the summary screen appears.”
Dude, I’ve seen people get hopelessly lost with the idea of clicking the bold “B” to make something bold in Microsoft Word. If I hung a sign on the wall that explained that, I wouldn’t expect people to suddenly get it. With or without signs, you will see confused voters on Election Day.
“You should know that this only became an issue after _voters_ requested that the font size on the Hart eSlate should be increased…”
Translation: HIC didn’t design the eSlate accessibly (being able to resize fonts in a GUI without data loss is a key principle of accessible software design). When someone pointed this out, they tried to “fix” it by making the fonts bigger for everybody. This broke the eSlate interface when confronted with long-ish strings.
In a more sensible world, the eSlate would have been designed with accessibility in mind from the start so that resizing the fonts didn’t require three years of patches and certification. Since handicapped accessibility is one of the key reasons for going to e-voting, after all.
October 24, 2006
I’m voting for James Webb, and it looks like arlington won’t have this screw up (you should have moved a couple of blocks down to Crytal City, Jason). Although I think this is sad, I don’t understand why Webb was going with the Jim Webb thing. Hew won the Navy Cross as James Webb, He wrote “Fields of Fire” as James Webb, he was a SecNav as James Webb, he should have run as James Webb, not Jim. I mean, that idiot Allen isn’t going around as George “my daddy coached the redskins” Allen