© Times-Herald photo by Lisa Goudy
Heather Walker, council assistant in the city clerk/solicitor's department, demonstrates how the ballot will be fed in a secrecy sleeve into the electronic machine during the Oct. 24 municipal election.
A number of concerns have been raised at some polling stations during the municipal election this past Wednesday.
Some electronic voting machines rejected ballots that had at least one section that was left blank or the maximum number of candidates wasn’t filled out. Machines also rejected ballots if someone voted for more than the maximum number of candidates. The machine attendant working the election had to ask the person if they had intended not to vote for all the areas in the same open room where voting took place.
“An advantage of the electronic vote counting machines is that we have an ability to catch any voter errors before the ballot is deposited into the ballot box, which is not something that you have the option of doing in a paper ballot situation,” said city clerk/solicitor Myron Gulka-Tiechko. “When (voters) take the ballot to the machine, it’s in the privacy sleeve. It’s like a file folder that keeps the ballot covered so the election worker can see that the issuing officer’s initials were on the ballot so it’s a legitimate ballot, but they normally wouldn’t see the intended voter choices.”
He added when the workers ask the voter about the areas, they don’t see the choices indicated on the ballot. If the worker inadvertently sees the voter choices, he or she is sworn to secrecy.
“The machine just cues the person attending the machine that, for example, the mayor position wasn’t voted for. It doesn’t say who they voted for,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “That information isn’t open to the election worker … or if it’s the referendum question or the election of council members or school board members — it doesn’t matter. It simply cues that particular spot in the ballot.”
If the voter’s intention was to skip an area or not vote for the maximum number of candidates, the machine attendant can override the insertion to proceed. However, the only way to find out if that was the voter’s intention or if it was a mistake is for the machine attendant to ask.
He said in regards to concerns about voters being questioned about whether it was their intention to not fill out or not completely fill out an area of the ballot in public, there is no ability to have a back room to discuss the voting choices. If that were the case, he said the essential transparency of the voting system would be compromised.
“The ballot box and the machine is sitting in a conspicuous area that is open to the public and I don’t know if there’s any way around that because I think the public needs to know there isn’t a hidden back room where somebody can be sliding ballots in inappropriately, et cetera,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “I don’t think it would serve the public well and would result in more people being suspicious if you had a screened off area where the public couldn’t see what was going on.”
He added when there are 10,000 people voting, it’s impossible to please everyone, but election workers do the best they can.
He said there was one polling station where the machine didn’t reject ballots because one machine hadn’t been programmed for that. All machines are programmed out of AccuVote company out of Burnaby in British Columbia.
“They were all supposed to have been programmed … with all the names and the choices, the referendum question, et cetera,” said Gulka-Tiechko. “But (there) might have been an error in not actually programming (that machine) for the override. So in that poll we might not have been able to catch any spoiled ballots.”