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My Conversation with Chairman Bulova About Paper Ballots

by: frankoanderson

Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 10:36:39 AM EDT

(This is a huge issue in my opinion, and needs to be solved to ensure everyone's vote is counted correctly. Thanks! - promoted by Aimee Fausser)

Do you trust this guy with your vote?

Neither do I, but this machine that leaves no paper record is the only voting method available in Fairfax County, VA this year -- unless action is taken soon.

This past Saturday I asked Chairman Sharon Bulova what we can to about it.  She said there are two options.

frankoanderson :: My Conversation with Chairman Bulova About Paper Ballots
The first option is getting the General Assembly to appropriate more funds to pay for paper ballots to be used in the optical scan machines.
The second option she is looking at is if there is any way to use money from the stimulus package to cover the costs.

Please contact your Delegate
and urge them to fund Democracy in this year's upcoming elections.

Lastly, there is one way that you can vote on a paper ballot and to ensure that your vote is counted:  absentee ballot.  Not only are they on paper, but you can actually check to make sure your vote was counted because your name is on it.  And if they didn't count it, you can challenge that decision.

The restrictions on absentee voting have been relaxed recently.  If you have full-time job, are a student, will be out of the county for any reason, or will just be too busy on election day, then you can vote absentee.  You must send in the Absentee Ballot Application in order to receive your personalized Absentee Ballot.

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Seems a little late in the game
Has Fairfax BOS done anything about this before now?  The GA session is over, save the reconvene in April.  And I thought that was just to figure out what they were doing with stimulus dollars.  

Why can't the county pay for paper ballots for their optical scanners?  Correct me if I am wrong here, but Fairfax owns the voting machines it uses for elections.  So, if they need some paper for the optical scan machines, seems like something Bulova and the FFX BOS could fix themselves.  I know that every locality is facing budget difficulties.  But if this is really a priority, they can make it happen.  What happened to the funds they were already allocated for elections?

I guess why isn't the first option asking the FFX BOS to pay for this?  Unless this is a statewide issue, why should the GA appropriate more money just to FFX?  According to SBOE, FFX has only 250 optical scanners out of 1400 total machines.  How much money are we talking here?

Also, all of Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City, and Prince William are on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) systems no different from Fairfax.  Close to all the machines in the state are touchscreen (DRE) systems.  If these machines are unreliable, I don't want to fix it for just for Fairfax.  And if all you want to do is buy optical scan ballots for the 250 machines you do have, then I say absolutely not to more state money for that.  If we needed to switch the entire state to optical scan ballots, then why did we wait until now to bring this up?  Is this because of the Moon-Cook election?

I personally think it should be a statewide change
But if you have to first push it by locality, I would take that as well. As a Fairfax resident, I know people who were happy to have a paper ballot in November and expected the same from then on out. Though this diary focuses on Fairfax, the issue certainly doesn't end at Fairfax's borders.

[ Parent ]
I don't disagree on the larger issue
But this sounds like a Fairfax BOS problem to solve.  My understanding of VA elections is that the localities are responsible for funding them.  So, if Fairfax needs paper ballots, Fairfax needs to pony up the money.  

Reading the Fairfax Office of Elections' budget narrative sounds like they weren't too pleased with the 2007 change that banned purchases of new DRE machine.  And looking at the 08, 09 and 10 budgets in Fairfax, the county isn't really focused on replacing all of their DRE equipment with optical scans very quickly.  So, this reply from the Chairman that there are only two option, neglects the fact that they are responsible for essentially the whole deal.  And at the end of the day the BOS can change the budget to allocate more money for this.  It may mean they have to give somewhere else, but not everything can be a priority.  

Also, rather than punting this issue to the state, the FFX BOS needs to own it.  That I understand requires some political courage, but just do it already.  Saying the state needs to appropriate more funds so that Fairfax can do its job sounds like a cop out to me.

On the larger issue, yes we need to move verifiable voting records.  But part of me asks whether there have been statistically significant issues with touchscreen equipment.  There is a state mandated process that needs to be followed to verify, test and assure the quality of these machines prior to their placement into service.  If data integrity is a big issue, then why did so many VA localities buy these machines and surely one of the many performed a sufficient level of quality assurance to detect anything major, right?  

From a fiscal perspective, this is disconcerting.  Just 6 years ago, we required all localities to convert to some sort of electronic voting equipment as a part of the Help America Vote Act.  Then 2 years ago, we say to all localities: "Oops! Big mistake on buying all those touchscreen machines.  You are hereby banned from buying anymore, but you can still use the ones you have until they wear out."  And in the interim, we are staffing up and printing out all these paper ballots so that people can choose between the machine and a piece of paper.  It just seems like a mighty big boondoggle; and we have just ended up wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on.  

[ Parent ]
More info after looking at FFX's Budget
So, in 2007, Delegate Hugo put together HB2707 which passed the GA.  That law requires the complete phaseout of DRE systems.  It bans localities from buying them after 2007.  Looking at FFX's budget in 2008 through 2010, the county has yet to allocate substantial funds to convert all of their DRE machines to optical scan ones.  In fact, it looks like Fairfax doesn't put a whole lot of priority on its Office of Elections, but that is just one man's view here.

So, here is the moment of clarity for me.  Fairfax's plan is the slowest of slow phaseouts of DREs.  The BOS didn't allocate the necessary funds for their own Office of Elections to go out and fix the problem.  So, now instead of owning up to their own decisions that lead them here, they want Richmond to bail them out.  No thank you!

Oh! And the budget line item cuts for Office of Elections are a good read too (as seen here).  

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