Update from Black Box Voting: Trouble with straight party voting and how you can help on Election Day

In email to supporters of the organization Black Box Voting, an organization devoted to fixing flaws in voting machines, informed them of votes being miscounted or not counted at all when the straight party option was chosen. The text of the email follows, along with a Youtube video:

THE PROBLEM: “Straight party voting” on voting machines is revealing a bad pattern of miscounting and omitting your vote, especially if you are a Democrat. Most recently (Oct. 2008), a firm called Automated Election Services was found to have mis-coded the system in heavily Democratic Santa Fe County, New Mexico such that straight party voters would not have the presidential vote counted.

STRAIGHT PARTY VOTING is allowed in 15 states. Basically, it means that you can take a shortcut to actually looking at who you are voting for and instead just select a party preference. Then the voting machine makes your candidate choices, supposedly for the party you requested…

HOW TO PROTECT THE COUNT against Straight Party Trap:

1) NEVER CHOOSE THE STRAIGHT PARTY VOTE OPTION, because it alerts the computer as to your party preference and allows software code to trigger whatever function the programmer has designed.
2) SEND THIS INFORMATION OUT TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN, blog it, root n’ toot it out there to get the word out.
3) ESPECIALLY GET THE WORD OUT TO PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING STATES, which have straight party voting options:
Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin
5) LOOK FOR UNDERVOTES (high profile races with lower-than-average number of votes cast) and flag them, post them, bring them to the attention of others for additional scrutiny.

Details, links to documents, news stories, more specifics here: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/78367.html

Voting machine miscounts of straight party votes were proven by California researcher Judy Alter in the 2004 New Mexico presidential election; in Alabama Democrat straight party votes were caught going to a Republican, and Wisconsin a whole slew of straight party votes disappeared altogether. Both DRE and optical scan machines are vulnerable. Private contractors are involved; private firms like LHS Associates, Automated Election Services, Harp Enterprises, Casto & Harris and others will program almost all systems in the USA this November. ES&S scanners were involved in examples cited, but Diebold has also issued a cryptic Product Advisory Notice in 2006 about unexpected results from certain Straight Party option programming practices. (More: http://www.bbvforums.org/forums/messages/1954/78367.html)


The big “Oops” needs a new frame of reference. For example: You are counting the cash for a fund raiser. Somehow, it’s discovered that $500 didn’t make it into the count and someone put it in their pocket. They say “Oops” and tell you it was a mistake. Really? Will you let them count the cash again? Probably not. Consequences! Where are they for Automated Election Services, ES&S, or Diebold?

The email also informed supporters of a new video that the organization has put out telling people how they can easily help on Election Day. To summarize it, in most polling places, information printed out from the voting machines is posted for the public once the counting of the votes is over. In order to check these numbers against the final vote total, it can be helpful to go around once they are posted and video tape them, along with whatever the polling officials are doing. If you are over the age of 17, you can even apply for a Watcher’s Certificate and possibly video tape them while they are counting the votes. If you are interested, you can contact Bev Harris, the director of Black Box Voting, at www.blackboxvoting.org.

The failure of various aspects of our election system is a serious issue. A few examples of this are:

  • A single machine in Florida in 2000 counted -16,000 votes for Al Gore. The difference between Gore and Bush in that state was less than 1,000 votes.
  • In the 2008 primaries, over 1 million Indiana voters were purged from the voter registration lists. These residents were mostly in minority-dominated communites, which tend to be more liberal in their voting.
  • In some states, if your house is foreclosed on, you will not be able to vote, even if you have previously registered.
  • Diebold’s voting machines have recently been found to “drop votes” (that is, not count certain votes). Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time between now and the election for this to get fixed.

I will be volunteering for Black Box Voting on Election Day, going to nearby polling places and recording the vote totals from their machines, and I hope you will be doing the same. Even if it does not bother you that our elections are decided by those who are turned away from the polls and those whose votes are not counted – as opposed to those who show up and vote without error – think of it this way: every vote that is not counted and every voter who is turned away from the polls is a potential vote for your favorite candidate that is literally wasted.

13 thoughts on “Update from Black Box Voting: Trouble with straight party voting and how you can help on Election Day

  1. darolew

    Preserving the HTML (the PRE tag in this case) doesn’t always work out well. It’s very annoying to have to scroll to read that…

  2. Jeremy Young

    I straight party voted earlier this week, but I think I’m okay — because Indiana allows you to vote either via touchscreen or optical scan. Of course, I chose the optical scan.

  3. darolew

    “Preserving the HTML (the PRE tag in this case) doesn’t always work out well. “

    Much better.

  4. Jeremy Young

    Yeah, hopefully. Thankfully I don’t put much credence in Black Box Voting, which robbed concerned voters of hundreds of thousands of votes in the wake of the 2004 election. I’m a little nervous, but not really worried.

  5. Ross Levin Post author

    You know, I posted this at KOS and got the same response that BBV isn’t trustworthy. I’ve never heard that before. And what do you mean they robbed hundreds of thousands of voters of their vote in 2004?

  6. Jeremy Young

    God, I’m an idiot. They didn’t rob them of their votes, they robbed them of their money. Sorry about that.

    Basically what they did is: Bev Harris (head of BBV) went on dKos and other sites (back when I was a member in good standing at dKos) and said, I’m going to Ohio to conduct an investigation of the election fraud there, my investigation will be so explosive that it will shame the GOP into overturning the results — just give me money to conduct it. So lots of people gave her lots of money (I wasn’t one of them), and…nothing. No investigation was ever carried out. The money was all poured back into BBV coffers.

    That doesn’t mean BBV is wrong about the straight party voting thing, but it does make me very skeptical.

  7. Ross Levin Post author

    Are you sure it just wasn’t as productive as she thought it would be? From what I’ve seen of her (I’ve corresponded with her a few times and a lot of it has been from watching “Hacking Democracy,” honestly), she’s a good woman doing a lot of work for the cause that she wanted money for.

  8. Jeremy Young

    She’s the one who made the claims about what it was going to be. Those claims were irresponsible at best, fraudulent at worst. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I’m going to have to disagree on this one.

  9. Ross Levin Post author

    I’m not disagreeing with you. I just don’t know much about what happened, and I was saying that from my experience with her she was trustworthy.

  10. Jack.Nauti

    How on earth coud they know NOW that presidential votes are not being counted for those who choose straight party voting? If I’m not mistaken, it is illegal to count or report any votes counts prior to the close of polls on election night. How is this possible?

    Come on people. If you truly want to improve elections, please do so, but you do the movement great harm when you dsetroy its credibility with this kind of ignorance. If election activists were designing and building voting systems with the same care and attention to detail they demonstrate with their “reporting”, we’d be 1000 times worse off than we already are.

  11. Ross Levin Post author

    Testing the machines beforehand. That’s how they make sure the machines are working or inform people of errors in the machines.

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