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October 25, 2004

Observing Voting Machine Prep: Amherst County

Select photos by your connection speed:

Preparation of Voting Machines, Amherst, Va - Oct 22, 2004 - High Quality (slower)

Preparation of Voting Machines, Amherst, Va - Oct 22, 2004 - Medium Quality (faster)

I was asked to observe the preparation of the Amherst County voting machines on behalf of the DNC/KE voter protection program last Friday. The registrar for Amherst, Gary Beasley, had already extended an invitation to the local parties to observe the process (my Republican counterpart did not attend for whatever reason), so being asked to attend in a more official capacity by the DNC worked out quite well. I filled out a detailed form that is, more or less, a checklist that profiles the procedures and practices involved in the voting machine preparation process. It also helps document a general sense of the county's efforts to prevent problems and gauges their readiness to deal with problems if they should arise on election day.

I'll cut right to the chase here and say that everything looked excellent, both in relation to the equipment and the highly competent electoral officials I dealt with that afternoon. I feel very confident (and I speak here as nothing more than a voting citizen and tech geek) that the voting process in Amherst County will be smooth.

For a little background on the systems, read my brief write-up and photo gallery of a demo of our new voting machines given by Mr. Beasley at a previous local Democratic Committee meeting. The new touchscreen systems built by Unilect are profiled in that blog post. [NOTE: My previous entry shows the touchscreen panel used by voters to cast their votes. Today's story and photos show only the equipment "behind the scenes" that record the votes. Don't mistake the unfriendly looking machine in these pictures with the device you will vote with on election day.] I will focus on the preparation of the machines in the remainder of this entry (click below).

The eleven voting machines for our precincts went through a detailed process of testing and pre-election preparation at the hands of the Registrar and Secretary and under the guidance of representatives of Unilect. This is the first use of these systems in a presidential election in Amherst County. It is the third use, however, of this model in a presidential election nationwide and there have been no prior irregularities experienced by other localities.

The Unilect reps were on hand as part of their sales agreement to provide complete training and support to Amherst County. All of the actual preparation work was done, however, by the Amherst officials with the Unilect representatives simply outlining the process and answering questions. It is immediately obvious to any observer that Registrar Beasley and Secretary Wanda Spradley are very comfortable with the operation of the machines in part, I suspect, from the numerous public demonstrations and training sessions they have conducted for months.

The photos I've attached (which were done for the blog, not something I was asked to do by the DNC) are captioned and lay out the process from start to finish. In summary, though, the procedures involved examining all the machines physically, running logic and other self-tests, printing reports to check the health of each unit, installing the ballot information, testing the backup batteries and, finally, sealing four key parts of every machine with a color-coded and numbered tamper-proof tag. Once sealed and documented, the machines were put under limited-access lock and key until election day.

Amherst will NOT be connecting their systems to a network for centralized submission of the election results. Amherst precincts will print audited results that will be witnessed by multiple officials with the same or greater safeguards associated with pre-touchscreen era voting.

The entire process was completely open, was not rushed in any way and everyone in attendance went out of their way to explain all of the steps and answer any questions. I was highly impressed by both the local election officials and the Unilect reps who will be on standby for technical assistance on Nov 2nd (and afterward) in the unlikely event a problem is encountered.

That's the process in a nutshell. Again, I don't claim that my observations make me any kind of expert on the process. My presence, however, does further illustrate the willingness of both the Amherst election officials and Unilect to make the process an open book. Voting is our single most important responsibility as citizens and I have no doubt whatsoever that every effort has been made in Amherst County to see that it goes without a hitch.

The next step is in our hands: On November 2nd (or before), be sure to cast your ballot for John Kerry and John Edwards. Make sure your family and friends get to their precinct and, by all means, please volunteer to help get out the vote for the Kerry/Edwards ticket. The majority in this country clearly see the wisdom in sending George Bush back to Crawford, Texas - let's make sure we follow through!

Posted by amahler at October 25, 2004 09:59 AM