I-Team

The Machine Vote

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Despite millions of dollars spent on new electronic election equipment in Illinois, many still wonder, "Will my vote count?"

In a non-descript building, behind unmarked doors, is the nerve center of Cook County's election command. The programming and preparation there is so sensitive that county election officials asked ABC7 not to disclose the location.

Key cards and badges are required to enter secure areas, including a "cage" where the touch screen machines are housed.

During the I-Team's exclusive visit, we were shown rows of voting supply carriers that contain all of the equipment and paperwork for the 2,290 suburban Cook County polling places.

Clerk David Orr says there is a reason for the covert process that insures equipment is secure and working properly.

"Let's face it, there's people in this world who are going to try to cheat. It's our job to do everything we can to make sure that would be extraordinarily difficult," Orr said.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 did away with the traditional punch-card ballots and hanging chads. Cook County voters choose either a touch screen machine or a paper ballot that is read by an electronic scanner.

Bob Wilson is with the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project. Wilson has a degree in computer science and has been an election judge since 1968.

He says even though the technology has improved since the last presidential election, electronic voting invites fraud, especially once the polls close and results have been sent wirelessly to election headquarters downtown.

"With a few strokes, you can change 10,000 ballots," Wilson said.

Last week, New York University School of Law released a report: "Is America Ready to Vote?" Prepared by the Brennan Center for Justice, the paper concluded that Illinois is one of only 10 states that does not follow recommended practices for counting ballots once the polls close. The investigation determined that Illinois needs improvement.

"If anyone tried to install, you know, some malignant software of some kind, we would catch that," Orr said.

Clerk Orr says that Cook County is one of the few jurisdictions in the U.S. that takes "snapshots' of the election machinery before, during and after the voting process to make sure that it is consistent. And he says Cook County does have a paper trail accounting of all votes, even if some of the state does not. The newer generation of touch screens that many areas are moving toward have what is called a verified paper trail.

"In Illinois, we require there to be a paper trail, a little paper roll that comes out that records people's votes as they make them," said Richard Means, election lawyer.

During a post-election audit, 5 percent of those votes will be checked to verify the results recorded on the cartridge match those on the print out.

"The verified paper audit trail has been a slight improvement although it has also proven to be somewhat fragile, many instances documented in Ohio where the paper trails failed to print. They came up with a different result than the electronic result," Wilson said.

Back at the warehouse, election workers attended a training session. On November 4, they will be part of the team working to make sure your vote counts only once.

"I know we have an unfortunate tradition in Chicago and Cook County. But the good news is, it's very difficult to cheat on this equipment," Orr said.

Despite all the high-tech security monitors in place, one of the most important Election Day precautions will be human. Polling place judges will be given lists of people in their precinct who voted early, so nobody votes twice or more.

The I-Team will be investigating polling place problems on Election Day. After you cast your vote, we'd like to know about the experience. Please go to our website at ABC7Chicago.com and send the I-Team an e-mail.

Additional links:
www.voterinfonet.com

www.chicagoelections.com

www.ballot-integrity.org

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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