October 19, 2009
Wow! Diebold scanners are picky about ink colors on ballots
Yup, you read that right. Diebold scanners are picky about which color ink is used to mark a ballot — sometimes just can not read blue ink. Also, sometimes just can not read marks made with number two pencil. Everyone who has ever filled out a scantron sheet for an SAT or GRE or any other standardized test must be scratching your head by now.
Yes, I know, I know … the official instructions from Diebold say to use a number two pencil or a pen with blue or black ink (just like those standardized test directions). But you can’t believe the official stuff because it doesn’t always work.
If you feed your carefully marked ballot through a scanner from Diebold sometimes it just “sees” a blank piece of paper. And you’ll never know when a Diebold scanner will fail to do its basic job of scanning for filled-in ovals on a sheet of paper. Sometimes it works just fine and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your vote will count — and sometimes it just won’t.
How did we learn about this “feature” of certain Diebold scanners? Well, it was during a routine Logic and Accuracy Test in Sarasota, Florida, that election director Cathy Dent noticed that some marked ballots being fed through the brand new scanners from Diebold were being seen as blank sheets paper by the machines.
Ms. Dent experimented a bit and discovered that the problem was “intermittent” but that it seemed to happen more often with blue ink or number two pencil marks.
What did Ms. Dent do next? Did she call Diebold and demand they take their defective machines back? Or, did she perhaps call Diebold and demand they fix them? Nope, not a chance that she would take the kind of action as the average American consumer whose new toaster failed to turn both sides of the bread an appropriate shade of .. er .. toast.
What Ms. Dent plans to do is photocopy any ballots that are submitted with blue ink. Plus, polling places in Sarasota will be stocked with an ample supply of black felt tip pens for voters to use.
That’s a temporary fix. But the long term solution is to fix the machines so they function properly and “read” popular types of inks and number two pencils. That’s in the hands of the Diebold elections unit (aka Premier) that was recently purchased by rival ES&S. They make these junk machines that can not perform even the most basic function of scanning with consistency.
The next question is whether these machines can actually count. There have long been suspicions about the accuracy of vote counts on Diebold machines. A public failure like the one in Sarasota does nothing to instill confidence in these machines — or any software or equipment with the Diebold/Premier label.
Another issue that needs to be addressed: These machines are used in jurisdictions across the country. It is not enough to have paper ballots if the machines cannot “read” the marks made by voters who use a pen with the “wrong” (=blue) ink color. The machine in question is the Diebold/Premier AccuVote OSX Digital Scan Tabulator (Hardware Model A) with Firmware 1.0.2.
If your jurisdiction uses this model Diebold/Premier scanner be sure to use black ink to mark your ballot. And make sure your local election officials know about this documented problem with these machines.
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