Trouble voting

    After the trouble I had using the ES&S AutoMark last year (see below) I brought a real camera with me to vote this year. Again this year I was disappointed with the machine. This was the third time in a row I've had major problems using the machine. Like last year, I found this machine error just by trying to vote, not doing anything funny. This year after selecting a candidate for one of the races, the machine informed me that I had under voted (voted for fewer candidates than Iím allowed). This was strange as I knew I should only be voting for one candidate for that race. I went back to fix my vote, and the candidate was still selected! Something was clearly wrong with the machine. After playing around with the machine for a bit, I figured out that the candidate was highlighted, but not selected. What must have happened was the machine interpreted me touching the candidate's name as me touching the candidate's name twice (possibly due to slight vibration in my hand). The second tap (almost instantly after the first) de-selects the candidate. Due to the poor user interface, the candidate remains highlighted, making them look selected. Once I figured out what was happening, this was easy to reproduce. I filmed this and it is shown in the video below:

Why this is important:
    This is important for several reasons. Most importantly it makes this machine unsuitable for people with shaky hands. Because this machine is marketed for people who would otherwise be unable to vote with a pen, this is a serious defect. I was able to troubleshoot the software problem on the fly and make it work for myself, but technical troubleshooting skills should not be a requirement to use these machines.
    Additionally, it shows how little testing was conducted by ES&S on this machine. Iíve used this machine for about a total of 10 minutes (over several elections) and Iíve found several major problems that even basic testing would have found.

Video notes: I used a pencil eraser on the video, but this initially happened to me with my hand, I just used to pencil so it would be clearer in the video what is going on. I also brought head phones with me this year, as so many people asked me last year about the audio. If you don't have headphones, then there is no audio (first half of video), if you have headphone, then a computer voice reads the screen to you.

Please note: I was not necessarily trying to vote for the candidates shown in the video. I just made the videos to illustrate my point. After making the video I changed the votes to who I was trying to vote for.

Today (April 7, 2009) when I was voting, I used the ES&S AutoMark to mark my ballot. Here in Madison, WI we use a classic ballot with arrows that the voter completes next to the name of the person they would like to vote for. To aid people who have trouble reading or marking the ballots, my local poling place also has a machine that scans in your ballot, presents the candidates on the screen, using a touch screen. I like the idea of these machines because the machines will check your ballot for you before it is cast (warning you if you under or over vote).  I’ve tried this machine out twice before. Last time I used the machine it jammed and was unable to read the ballot until it was reset by an election official. This time it incorrectly interpreted the candidate who I was trying to vote for, likely due to a miss calibration of the screen. Every time I tried to click on the second candidate, the first would be selected. I took several videos of me trying to vote to illustrate the point (I took a few more videos than are shown, but it cost me a few bucks each to get them from my phone to computer, so I didn’t bother posting them here).

PLEASE NOTE: I was not necessarily trying to vote for the second candidate in every race, I just made the videos of that to illustrate my point. After making the video I changed the votes to who I was trying to vote for (I was able to vote for them by clicking below their name to compensate for the screen calibration error).


If you can't see the videos, I added them to youtube here and here.

After voting, a confirmation screen appears that confirms who you were voting for, this confirmation screen correctly displayed my votes. Unfortunately, when I tried to print the ballot, the printer broke, and was unable. In the end I had to vote with a pen, the old fashion way.

(the small text says: There was an error while printing)

I told the election official about the poor calibration, (he had to come over when the printer didn’t work). Additionally, I called the city clerk to let them know. They told me that this was normal behavior, and was just a calibration issue.

Just to be clear, I don’t think there is anything malicious going on here. My local poling place workers are great (District 19 shout out). I think it is a combination of poor hardware design, and poor calibration causing this problem. People who use crappy ATM machines are aware of this problem, but I feel it is not acceptable in this situation.

UPDATE: The Bill Lueders of the Isthmus did a nice writeup about my voting troubles Here.

feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or you want to see the other video clips or have questions.