By Brad Friedman on 4/4/2012, 1:08pm PT  

During yesterday's Wisconsin primary election, a number of paper ballots were sent out in several counties that were reportedly too wide to be tabulated by the computerized optical-scan systems used to tally ballots in the state. The same exact thing happened just two weeks ago during the Illinois primary sending election officials into a panic and causing delays for some voters.

Then, as now, the problem has been chalked up to a paper-cutting error by the printers. Perhaps that's true, perhaps it's not. We'll take them at their word, barring evidence to the contrary. Innocent errors can and do happen.

But whether that's an accurate explanation or not, one way in which the failure was dealt with in both Illinois and Wisconsin continues to be extremely troubling and, frankly, offense: the practice of election workers manually "remaking" the ballots of voters after the election, in ostensible secret, and before they are tabulated...

From AP's report yesterday afternoon on what happened in Wisconsin [emphasis added]...

Election officials say printing companies cut the ballots too wide. Workers caught the problem before the election and had other companies produce right-sized ballots, but the change came too late for some absentee voters. Workers had to copy votes from the ill-sized ballots onto properly sized ones.

Workers in six Portage County municipalities had to copy some absentee votes onto new ballots, too, after a printing company put the wrong computer codes on ballots. Workers caught and fixed the problem before the election but not before some absentee ballots went out.

It has become standard practice across the country for election workers to actually create new ballots, by hand, out of ballots that cannot be read by optical-scan tallying computers. The workers either "remake" those ballots correctly or incorrectly. Who knows?

In some cases over the years, in places where touch-screen voting machines are used, but have broken down during the day --- or in cases were voters preferred to use paper ballots, if allowed --- votes cast on paper ballots are later actually punched into touch-screen e-voting systems by election workers. Again, the workers either carry out that sensitive, fraught-with-error operation either correctly or incorrectly. Who knows?

All of that, instead of simply counting such ballots --- or, all of them, frankly --- publicly, by hand, as per "Democracy's Gold Standard", as the bi-partisan election officials in Columbia County, NY now do, or as they were forced to do over the weekend in Palm Beach, FL after the optical-scan computers (the same ones used across almost all of Wisconsin, by the way), actually declared the wrong "winners" in several different races.

Was the ballot you cast when you last voted "remade" in secret by someone else after you cast it? If so, was it done accurately?

As long as this appalling practice continues, you'll likely never know.

* * *
Please support The BRAD BLOG's fiercely independent, award-winning coverage of your electoral system, as available from no other media outlet in the nation, with a donation to help us keep going (Snail mail, more options here). If you like, we'll send you some great, award-winning election integrity documentary films in return! Details right here...

Share article...