Just a few thoughts regarding this article about the sSlate machines that Harris County uses.
County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican who administers elections, pointed out that eSlates have had many fewer reported problems than "touch-screen" technology, which has led to isolated cases in Texas of machines recording votes that were the opposite of voters' intentions.
"In light of what has transpired since with other equipment, the county made the right choice," Kaufman said Tuesday. "The equipment is resilient."
About 40,000 eSlate machines are in use in the world, according to manufacturer Hart InterCivic. "Not one has ever lost a vote," operations director Peter Lichtenheld said Tuesday.
But such assurances were insufficient to prevent Ohio election officials from finding earlier this year that eSlates are unreliable and too vulnerable to interference by rogue computer experts.
When it comes to government standards and testing of electronic voting machines, even the Hart InterCivic official acknowledges a problem.
"The current regulatory environment is simply moving too slowly and seems ill-defined," Lichtenheld said.
Contrary to rampant rumors, pressing the eSlate button for a particular party's slate of candidates applies to the selection for president. Voters who press a straight ticket button and mark a vote for their presidential candidate effectively erase their vote for president and preserve their votes for candidates of that party in all other races.
However, if a voter picks a straight-ticket option and then votes for the presidential candidate in another party, it will register.
ESlate defenders point out that voters can review their selections on a "summary screen," and change any unintentional mistakes, before recording their by pressing the "cast ballot" button.
But some experts shake their heads at the fact that voting for a presidential candidate for emphasis after voting "straight ticket" negates the selection for the White House.
"The eSlate has a number of odd and unpredictable behaviors with respect to straight-ticket voting," said Mike Byrne, Rice University associate professor of psychology and computer science.
With 40 judicial races on the list along with federal and local races, the Harris County general election ballot is one of the longest in the nation. Dan Wallach, who founded Rice's Computer Security Lab, pointed out that, because of the length, voters must examine three summary screens to check the accuracy of their votes.
Worse, he wrote in an article last week, "our research shows that as many as 63 percent of voters fail to notice errors on the summary screen."
One last point: I can just about guarantee that the eSlates will be an issue in the 2010 election for County Clerk. I'm not as negative on them as some folks, but I definitely think there's a lot of room for improvement, and I don't think that has been anywhere near sufficiently addressed. I look forward to having this discussion at that time.Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 30, 2008 to Election 2008