[E-voting] experience with VVAT

Michael McMahon michael at hexmedia.com
Mon Mar 27 11:03:28 IST 2006

I've been sceptical about optical scanning in the past, but this experience
is quite encouraging. It looks to me that it's probably the best and most
practical system available at the moment.

I think if we had to design a system *today* from scratch for the Irish 
election system, this is the one I'd go for.
Even at this stage, given the cost of storing the DREs (€1 million per 
year) it could make
sense to just scrap them, and buy scanners (obviously a much smaller 
number of them)
instead. Since there would be relatively few scanners, I'd expect they 
could be stored
in existing county-council premises.

Scanning hand-written numbers is obviously more complicated than the simple
marks in this system, but OCR software is easily capable of it. In fact, 
I would see it
as an advantage, that gives the audit more purpose (in a practical sense)
because of the inevitability that some people's hand-written scrawl 
would be unrecognisable
and it is important that the machines correctly identify these ballots.

I think all the other problems that people have identified are solvable, 
and from a cost point of view
it's definitely the best of both worlds. They save on the high staff 
costs at
the count centres, without having to add extra staff at the polling 

- Michael

Marian Beddill wrote:

> I believe that the scanners are working correctly - the principal 
> evidence being the (although small) double-checks that have been done 
> - hand count and machine count, in full view of the party Observers, 
> with correct totals. (I might add, Observers are allowed every time 
> this election work is ongoing - for all the manual preparatory steps 
> and for the machine runs.)
> None of the times we were present have ballots been missed/skipped in 
> the scan process. The machines are robust, mechanically 
> "old-technology" (see the photo at the mfg site:
> http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction 
> <http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction> 
> )
> It has a counter - the staff keeps a log, which starts with the exact 
> number of ballots brought to the machine, then the number reported by 
> it, for each batch. There are anomalies - most commonly "overvotes" 
> (marked for TWO candidates in a race for one position) and Write-ins 
> (votes for a person not fully registered as a candidate). The scanner 
> detects these and diverts them into separate "OUT" trays - and the 
> ordinary ones into the main tray - and reports the counts, which the 
> staffer writes on the log-sheet.
> Marian Beddill
> ps: I have no relationship with any vendor, and have never had. My 
> interest is elections integrity, because: "If you cannot trust the way 
> your votes are counted, nothing much else in politics matters!" 
> http://noleakybuckets.org/ .
> At 3/26/2006 05:27 AM, Michael McMahon wrote:
>> Marian,
>> That sounds like a good system. What about the mechanics of scanning 
>> the ballots?
>> How reliable is that? Are there any problems with ballots being 
>> missed/skipped in the scan process?
>> Did the audit show an anomalies at all ?
>> Thanks
>> Michael.
>> Marian Beddill wrote:
>>> Yes, Michael, my own county has now used VVAT in three elections, 
>>> with excellent results.
>>> We are Whatcom County, Washington State - just over 100,000 
>>> registered voters, in 119 Precincts. We had previously used 
>>> punch-cards for about 20 years, and our number of "permanent 
>>> absentee" voters(*1) had gradually grown to 75% of the returned 
>>> ballots.
>>> In early 2005, the governing County Council voted to eliminate the 
>>> 40-or-so polling places and shift to 100% vote-by-mail (VBM). We 
>>> purchased optical scan equipment (Sequoia 400C)(*2) for the central 
>>> office, and will have a few special machines for service to disabled 
>>> voters.
>>> We have a cadre of trained citizen observers, representing the 
>>> "major"(*3) political parties, who were allowed close visual 
>>> observation of all the steps of the ballot-processing and 
>>> vote-counting (no touching), beginning at receipt of trays from the 
>>> Post Office into the Elections Office, all the way to archiving in a 
>>> locked vault, of the coded-&-sealed boxes of counted ballots. Along 
>>> the way, we performed a "double-check" hand count of 
>>> randomly-selected batches of ballots, in the presence of observers 
>>> who watched the batches be counted by teams of staffers, then 
>>> counted by the machines. Since the optical-scan paper ballots had 
>>> been created by the voters (data source), and the same ballots(*4) 
>>> were counted by staff and the machines, in public, and with track 
>>> kept of the number of ballots at each step, we were confident that 
>>> we had established "an audit trail" from data generation (marking) 
>>> to data tally.
>>> Working with our senior elections officials, there also was a 
>>> Citizen's Elections Advisory Committee or C.E.A.C. established ( 
>>> http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/auditor/election_division/index.jsp ) 
>>> with nine members representing stakeholder groups, which has helped 
>>> communication between the officials and the public.
>>> Marian Beddill
>>> Bellingham WA USA
>>> Footnotes:
>>> (1) Any voter has been allowed to request and return an "absentee" 
>>> ballot by mail in our state, for many years.
>>> (2) Sequoia "OPTECH 400C - Introduction" :
>>> http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction 
>>> <http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction> 
>>> <http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction 
>>> <http://www.sequoiavote.com/productguide.php?product=OPTECH%20400C&type=Introduction>> 
>>> (3) Our state defines political parties as "major" or "minor", 
>>> according to legal criteria that are basically vote counts for 
>>> candidates.
>>> (4) "the same ballots" is not precisely 100% accurate, as law allows 
>>> damaged ballots to be duplicated by staff, working always in teams 
>>> of two, and with Observers present. Both original and duplicate are 
>>> archived, available for further review if even needed.

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