Volusia County residents casting votes in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, election might be surprised to learn that their paper ballots won’t be counted.
Not directly, anyway.
Volusia County’s electronic-voting system doesn’t tabulate your vote directly from the ballot you feed into the reader at the polling place. Instead, much like an ATM reads a check, the vote-tabulator takes a picture of the ballot, and counts your vote from the digital image.
In a system that, by design, has backups every step of the way, creating an image of each ballot generates a backup.
At least it would, if the 63 counties in Florida that use electronic vote-tabulation had hit the “save” option.
Volusia County just began saving all of its ballot images, beginning with the August primary.
“Our opinion is that the ballot image is part of the chain of custody of the vote,” said Susan Pynchon, director of the nonprofit Florida Fair Elections Coalition.
She urged Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis to begin saving the images, to enhance the ability to audit elections.
“It probably wasn’t truly thought of before,” Lewis said.
Lewis said under the original setup of the system, only images of write-in ballots were saved.
“The picture is the source document,” Pynchon said. “But it appears that many, if not most, of the Florida counties that use this software are deleting the images.”
Pynchon has sent public-records requests for the ballot images to the counties that use same or similar software, in an attempt to encourage more elections supervisors to hit that “save” button.
“It’s an amazing auditing tool,” Pynchon said. “I’m more excited about this than almost anything.”
Because the machines create corresponding random serial numbers on the digital image and on the paper ballot, Pynchon said, they can be compared side-by-side.
There are other benefits.
According to Lewis, before the images were saved, when a public-records request was made for ballots, an elections official had to pull the actual paper ballots and stay with the requester while the ballots were examined.
Now, PDF images of the ballots can be burned to a CD or sent by email.
The elections office in Madison, Wisconsin, is even posting the ballot images on the internet, Pynchon said.
“We’re hoping all of them will be doing it,” she said.
Also, in the case of a catastrophic event — a hurricane, for example — the digital ballots would be safe.
“If there was a fire or flooding, the paper ballots could possibly be gone,” Lewis said. “I think it’s a good backup.”
Will voting someday be entirely computerized?
“I think we’ll always have paper ballots,” Lewis said.