Concerns About Accuracy of Voting Machines in the Mid-South

Memphis, TN – The Shelby County Election Commission recently purchased 670 electronic pollbooks to ease lines and confusion on Election Day. However, due to concerns about the accuracy of the machines, they will not be used to process ballots on November 4th.

When the IT department in Shelby County started testing the new electronic pollbooks, they found that upwards of 150 had faulty C-MOS batteries. The C-MOS batteries maintain the computer's hardware configuration as well as the correct time and date stamp.

The information led to two days of meetings for the election commission and Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold, Inc. Premier said they'd replace all of the machines immediately, saying that the problem is isolated. Apparently, the machines were made in 2006 and sat on a shelf until Premier sent them to Memphis.

The commissioners decided that the electronic pollbooks are not reliable for this election. This year, they'll use them to help voters find their correct precincts.

"Instead of a pollbook being a 3-ring binder as you've seen in the past, what you will see is a little touchscreen device with a printer attached," according to Rich Holden, election commissioner for Shelby County.

"What [the machines] will do is utilize that to look up your name to confirm that you're a registered voter. And they will also print out your application for a ballot from the little printer there, you will sign it, once they check your name and address. They will hand you a card - which has been burned, as they refer to it. That you will use to put into the touch screen to get the correct ballot for your address," Holden said.

Since 2004, most states have gone to electronic voting machines. There are several brands and two main types: touchscreen and optical scan. Shelby County and most of Mississippi use Diebold's touchscreen.

The optical scan uses a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter before it is inserted into the machine. The machine then counts each ballot.

"I think the touchscreen machines solve the problem. People say that the paper trail solves the problem. My question is how many times do you count the paper. We've proven that people over-vote, and they can under-vote. There are all kinds of problems with paper ballots," Holden said.

Problems with optical scan machines were recently revealed during the New Hampshire presidential primary.

According to the We The People Foundation, "New Hampshires vote counting machines violate federal accuracy standards."

The issue was revealed after a recount was called for by Republicans and Democrats. They found "the number of machine counts that were in error by more than 2 votes was 9.81 times greater than the number of hand counts that were off by more than 2 votes," according to We The People Foundation

According to Robert Schulz, president and founder of the We the People Foundation,

"Any touchscreen machine, any machine that counts votes people, should be very concerned. It sets the stage for confusion, frustration, at the very least, but also fraud."

Despite Schulz's concerns, Lucy Carpenter is confident in the in the touchscreen voting machines. She leads the election office in Marshall County, Mississippi.

"They are not handmarked, but we do have a paper trail, so the voter can actually see his printed ballot. He cannot remove it from the machine, and that printed ballot of course is rolled up and goes into a safe pocket that is sealed at the end of the election. So if it became necessary to compare the machine with the paper vote, that could be done," Carpenter said.

Each machine also has a flash memory card as another form of backup.

There are reports that voting machines switched votes during early voting in West Virginia and east Tennessee. The Decatur County Chronicle last week reported that votes cast for McCain were switched to Obama.

Irene Campbell of the Decatur County Election Commission says they've checked with hundreds of voters who say their votes did not switch. She says the reports of vote switching came from the Republican chairman's mother and father-in-law. Technicians checked out the machines and found no errors.

In two West Virginia counties, the Charleston Gazette reported that several people experienced vote switching right before their eyes. Still, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State, all votes cast were corrected prior to the voter leaving the polling booth.