Vote "flipping" and calibration

| Comments (1) | Voting
Another year, another set complaints about recording errors from DREs (ES&S, Hart). The general situation here is that voters report they tried to vote for candidate X and the machine reported a vote for candidate Y. Wallach's analysis of the Hart machines suggests that the machines are functioning as designed but that users are finding the UI confusing. The ES&S is a touchscreen machine and the alleged source of the problem is calibration errors. there's no inherent connection between the displays on the DREs and the sensors used to register your vote (see this article by Doug Jones) and they can get out of sync, registering the wrong votes.

Note that these aren't security issues: they're pure systems design issues, but that doesn't mean they don't present a problem. The calibration issues with ES&S machines present a particular difficulty, because the touchscreen can drift after it leaves election central, and then it relies on pollworkers or voters to notice the problem. Given how confusing these interfaces can be (cf. Wallach's post about Hart), it's an open question how many voters just assume it's their own fault and back up and correct their votes. This is especially likely if the machine is just slightly miscalibrated, since a slightly off-center press may register incorrectly, but a more careful on-center press will register correctly, leading the voter to attribute any problems to user error.

Assuming there's no easy software fix for the calibration drift (which I suspect there isn't) it's not exactly clear what to do. Potentially you could recalibrate for every user, but that adds time to the voting experience and is potentially another thing to confuse them. I've heard suggestions for bigger buttons, but that video looks to be off by inches (which actually makes me worry it's not a calibration issue but some other kind of bug), so that wouldn't fix it.


The real problem here is chosen inappropriate technology for the task. Elections are infrequent and unique events. Buying something that doesn't store well, requires reprogramming whenever the election law changes (like every year) or is too complicated to setup by 80 year old blue haired women is idiotic.

A piece of paper, a pencil, and a optical scanner is all thats needed.

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