October 11, 2015

Voting Machines

In the August 16 New York Times, in an article entitled “Officials Saw Flaws at Polls will Remain in November,”reporter Ian Urbina notes that several of the new voting machine systems, particularly those with the touch screens, will not be ready for deployment before November because of a delay in federal testing and certification processes.

As I read this article, I continue to be mystified as to why elections officials believe that machines will solve voting problems. Our experience with technology is that it is subject to a wide range of potential errors in deployment and use, and that a single testing and certification process never anticipates every possible problem.  Pitney Bowes equipment is highly reliable, particularly with respect to equipment used for postal revenue collection, but part of the reason is that we continually assess how it is being used, and are able to anticipate and react to all of the challenges we see.  We are also fortunate that, although our equipment is critical to our customers’ success, we have the luxury of being able to repair it, and, if necessary, replace it without negatively impacting our customers’ operations.

In an elections environment, a malfunction on election day in one polling place can change the outcome of an election.  There is no margin for error, and being able to fix a system the day after an election is inadequate.

Therefore, it puzzles me that elections officials do not think more seriously about secure mail solutions like our Relia-VoteTM Mail Balloting Solutions.  Relia-Vote has three major advantages, aside from being a proven system. First,  if something goes wrong, it is highly likely that there will be time to correct the problem, since the voting-by-mail system anticipates a several-week, rather than a single-day, voting process.

Second, by its nature, the Relia-Vote technology sending out and processing the incoming ballots is operated by a relatively small population of trained elections employees, whereas every machine-based voting system is operated by the totality of voters in an election, and, if the technology is new, these voters will not have been trained before they cast their vote.  In a voting-by-mail system, the voter is using an intuitively simple paper-based system like other paper-based systems with which the voter is familiar.

Third, the elections officials available to help voters reacting to mail ballots can be on the other end of a telephone in a single location and can be trained employees of the elections department in a locality.  They can help one another and learn from one another as they address questions raised by voters.  A machine-based voting system, by its nature, will be decentralized, and will have less-well-trained poll workers in multiple locations who will have far more difficulty explaining problems and getting answers over the telephone in a highly time-compressed election day environment.

We appear to have a bias that newer systems like touch-screen voting machines are better, rather than looking at improved versions of older systems, like voting by mail. The reality is that our country would be far better off and would have far fewer election disputes if everyone voted by mail, or, at a minimum, everyone had the option of voting by mail.