Saturday, November 13, 2010

Greater Sudbury's Electronic Voting Machines: Not Nearly as Good as a Lottery Kiosk

I was initially very surprised to hear that Ward 10 candidate for Council, Fern Cormier, pulled the plug on his own request to Council for a recount of the October 25th municipal vote. I was surprised becausse, with a margin of only 5 votes separating him from Councillor Frances Caldarelli, a recount seemed to me to be a good idea. I was surprised because even Frances Caldarelli went on record acknowledging that a recount made sense. Check out this excellent editorial in the Sudbury Star for more information on what went wrong)

Turns out Cormier doesn't think a recount is a sensible thing to do after all, based on some information which he likely didn't have when he initially requested the recount. Cormier, in withdrawing his recount request, is showing his true class, as well as his concern for the community. It really appears that a recount would not have changed the outcome at all, given that the recount of ballots would be conducted in the same way as the ballots were originally cast. In our municipal election, ballots are fed into a computer and counted…or not counted, depending on whether or not the line drawn by voters connected two other line segments appropriately. Unlike with provincial and federal election ballots, where voters place an "x" or checkmark next to someone's name, and votes are counted by hand, Greater Sudbury's election was decided by a computer.

Does it seem perverse to anyone else that a computer is really the one deciding whether a ballot should count or not, which leads to Cormier's loss by 5 votes? No one is suggesting that the computer was anything but impartial; that's not the point. The point is that no human was or would be available to take a closer look at ballots in an effort to determine whether a voter's intent was clearly indicated on the ballot (perhaps through a line of less-than-ideal thickness). Apparently, the computer rejected over 160 ballots; while some were undoubtedly spoiled purposefully, we'll never know the reasons other ballots did not register. No human will ever assess these ballots. And that's apparently all perfectly legal and frankly the way it's supposed to be.

So, here we are: we have a new (returning) Councilor in Ward 10, whose entire term on Council now is going to be spent under a cloud, because the truth is, we'll never really ever get to know if the majority of ballots cast added up in her favour. We only know that the ballots a computer was able to count gave her 5 more than it gave her nearest competitor.

When we tell voters to get out to vote, because every ballot counts, and then we have a computer rejecting dozens of ballots (with no opportunity for a voter to go back and re-mark their ballots correctly, which any lottery terminal kiosk would have us do if we didn't press heavily enough with our pencils), what does this say about our democracy?

I think this latest episode in Ward 10 makes a mockery of our electoral process. Frankly, it's time to get rid of the voting machines, and return to hand-counted ballots, which can be questioned by scrutineers. What are the reasons for using voting machines in the first place? So that results can be had that much more quickly on election night? To avoid contested ballots through the scrutineering process? If the former, well, I don't think an extra hour's worth of our time is going to negatively impact our democratic processes; if the latter, I wonder how many votes actually get changed in recounts where hand-counted ballots are challenged? Would it be the same percentage, higher or lower than those 160 or so ballots rejected by voting machines?

Greater Sudbury residents deserve better. Our votes are matter more than playing the 6/49. If marks are made on a ballot which the machine can't read, a voter should be informed. Better yet: it's time to ditch these machines.

Fern Cormier didn't have much of a choice but to opt out the recount process. The long and short of it is both he and Councillor Caldarelli both got screwed here, although Cormier perhaps a little more so. At least both Cormier and Caldarelli have come out of this electoral fiasco looking good, holding their heads high. Way to go, Fern & Fran!


Rural said...

I agree. Counting a paper ballot by machine is perhaps fine..... however where such a paper ballot exists doing a RECOUNT by anything other than human eye (at least for those ballots rejected by machine) is totally useless and can only be called bizarre!

John Pitter said...


John Pitter said...

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