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vote by email

Not sure what forum to put this in. It is the implicit design of this scheme that interests me so I'll put this here.

Soldiers can vote by requesting an absentee ballot, voting, signing it, and then mailing it back to their home precinct. Yes, when you vote as an absentee voter, you lose the right to a secret ballot. Tough cookies though since you have to sign the ballot to certify that you and not your kid brother or next door neighbor is the one that filled it out. You also sign in when voting in person, but that roster is kept separately from the ballot and the two can't be connected. Since the thing you sign and the ballot have to be in the same envelope, there's no way around this for absentee voting apart from some mechanism to vote at a voting booth in Bahrain and have the ballots sent by local voting booth proxies there to hundreds of individual counties, which is probably not practical.

Anyway, they have a new system where you can 'vote by email'. It's not REALLY voting by email though...

Here's how it works:

1. You get your absentee ballot.
2. You vote.
3. You sign the ballot.
4. You have the ballot notorized by  "voting officers in the military units". This is a bit different from the normal absentee voting and not clear why this is necessary for soldiers and not for ordinary absentee voters.
5. You scan your ballot into your computer. Hope you have a scanner!
6. You convert the scan into Adobe Acrobat format. Hope you have a licensed copy of Acrobat on your computer!
7. You email the pdf file to the "federal voting assistance program in the Department of Defense". Apparently this is a group of offices located within the Pentagon. It's not clear why you email here and not to the county you live in, except that probably mos counties do not have 'vote by email' programs I suppose.
8. The Pentagon prints out your ballot.
9. The Pentagon puts your ballot in a fax machine.
10. The Pentagon faxes your ballot from the Pentagon to the voting officials in the county you live in, for the counties that have fax machines and accept absentee ballots this way. (Most don't.)
11. For counties without faxed ballots, the ballot is put in an envelope and mailed.
12. If the envelope or fax arrives after the election, it is thrown away as invalid.
13. If the envelope or fax arrives in time before the election, it is put in a special pile.
14. After the election, your ballots are put into storage, uncounted, because there are so few of them for that county that it would not have affected the vote anyway and so there is no point to counting them. (This is what happened in most counties in 2000 and every election before that.)

Anyway I want to submit this process of high-tech 'convenient e-voting', established at tremendous cost (it will cost approximately $100 to process each ballot that is handled this way), as something that only the federal bureaucracy could design and love.
UN Vote Observer
Sunday, September 05, 2004
Its not so much a design as a 'ummm well we have postal balloting so we'll just make email balloting the same by printing it out' the rest follows from that.

Its not uncommon for law firms to print every email out because then it exists and they can touch it.

Does #14 mean that military ballots don't count?
Simon Lucy Send private email
Monday, September 06, 2004
so basically, you are saving the cost of postage (assuming email is free)?

Wouldn't a freepost for the military be equiv?

Save the PDF and scanner bit I'd have thought.
i like i
Monday, September 06, 2004

Law firms in this part of the world have the legal obligation to keep their entire correspondence for at least 10 years. Not only requires the law to keep this as paper, practical experience has shown that this is also the most robust solution over time. I only hope that they also keep the electronic incarnations of the messages for easy access.

Having a bit of an archiving and documentation background, I tell you that this is a very wise decision at least for the time being.
Karel Thönissen Send private email
Monday, September 06, 2004
Hi Simon,

Well regarding #14, that was a bit of a surprise to find out during the last election. Technically it does count, but there is no point to actually counting them if it woludn't make a difference anyway. Voting laws vary on the state and county level so there are 1000s of different specific ways it is handled.

In practice, when the vote is close enough that the military and other absentee votes from overseas might have made a difference, then they do count them. But unless it is that close, there is no point to the time and expense of doing so, at least for many counties.

Regarding the military freepost, yes, that's how it works, but the problem is it takes a few days and so you have to plan a bit ahead. With the new scheme it's conceivable that you could vote up to the day of the election if the notorized fax vote is accepted in your home county. You would stll be responsible for ordering the ballot far enough in advance to do so.
UN Vote Observer
Monday, September 06, 2004
Part of the reason there was a delay in the last election is that it was so close it a few states that they had to open up those absentee ballots and count them by hand, a process that takes some time.
UN Vote Observer
Monday, September 06, 2004
Regarding #14 (14. After the election, absentee ballots are put into storage, uncounted...): This is certainly not true here in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. 

We use optical scan machines that process ballots.  All absentee ballots are delivered out to the actual precinct locations where the voter resides, and the election judges there process them thru the same scanner used for all the ballots.  (They can wait till the end of the night to do this, but they often do it during slow times throughout the day.)  And while the absentee voter was identified when the ballot arrived, there is no identification on the ballot when it is actually scanned at the precinct.

P.S.  These optical scan machines seem to me to work very well, and actually BETTER than many of the newer ATM-style machines.  Some of the good qualities resemble features of high-quality software! 

 - graceful degradation.  The voter uses a marker pen to fill in paper ballots, then inserts them into the scanner for counting.  If something happens so that the scanner stops working, people can continue to fill out their paper ballots and leave them for later scanning.  They lose the error-catching features of the scanner (see below), but are still able to cast their vote.  (We've even had power failures at polling places where voters continued to fill out their ballots by candle-light.  Voting did not stop!)

 - input error-checking. When the paper ballot is inserted into the scanner, it checks for certain errors (like voting for more than 1 candidate, voting in both parties in a primary, etc.) and kicks the ballot back to the voter if there are errors (and displays a code indicating the type of error).

 - reproducability.  The paper ballots are physically stored in the machine, and if there is any question, they can all be run thru the scanner again quite quickly to do a recount.  In fact, in the City Clerk's office they keep a special fine-tuned scanner, which they use to
re-scan all the ballots whenever there is a 'close' result.  (And it's so easy to do that their definition of 'close' is much more general than it used to be.)  And the ink marks on the ballots, unlike hanging chads, are not affected by this -- they can be recounted as often as needed without being changed by the recount process.

 - scaleability.  The scanner is so quick that a single machine can handle many polling 'booths'.  If there is an unexpected high turnout, the election workers can add more places for voters to fill out their ballots, without needing extra scaners.  (At busy times, voters can even fill out their ballots sitting at tables or standing against the walls, without having to wait for a booth to become empty.)
Tim Bonham Send private email
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Could it be they're making it so difficutl for the military to vote so that they can then give the Iraqui puppet government an excuse for holding off elections?
Stephen Jones Send private email
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
All of the above fairly convinces me that our (UK) current primitive system of make a cross in a box on a piece of paper which is then counted by some human being is still the best method.
Simon Lucy Send private email
Thursday, September 09, 2004

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