When early voting began here last week, we saw unprecedented turnout - leaning heavily Democratic by primary voting history. Locally, Republicans are worried about maintaining their stranglehold on elected offices.
Yesterday, Republican State Rep. Tan Parker, who wants you to pay your poll tax, is running against "stealth" candidate Democrat Jesus Carrillo actually got out block-walking and rang our doorbell yesterday. This despite the Barack Obama sign in front yard, and stack of Obama bumper stickers on our front porch.
I wasn't home at the time - I was at my office printing up more materials for my own block-walking. Mamask8z answered the door, and had a conversation with him. I'll let her recap that for you, but I've got to give him credit for having the balls to come by here.
I think this year we just have more Texans who are looking beyond labels and personalities at fundamental philosophies. The Republican Party has lost their way due to the years of riding on anti-immigrant, anti-gay, culture-war rhetoric. This year, many people have come to realize that those issues are like farts in the wind, because having a job and money in your pocket to spend are what are really important.
I have worked elections using paper, punch card, and electronic ballots. This is what I know about the differences between—and the pros and cons of--paper ballots vs. electronic ballots:
Paper Ballots provide a record of the vote as it was cast. In the event of a challenge, Elections Administrators can go back and manually recount the ballots. The problem with a paper ballot is that it is more likely to record "over votes" which end up being cast as no vote.
An over vote occurs when someone accidentally makes more than one mark on the ballot in a particular race. Since you cannot vote for more than one candidate, your selections do not count in that race. The rest of the marks you make on the ballot will be counted, as long as you only had one selection in each race. In the event that no choice is marked in a particular race, known as an “under vote”, no vote will be cast in that contest.
Besides the over vote problem, paper ballots can be lost, misplaced, or mutilated to the point that they cannot be read. Not to mention the potential problem of ballot box stuffing--people voting more than one ballot and casting more than one vote.
Electronic Ballotshave been the target of much discussion since the 2000 election. There is widespread mistrust of electronic balloting machines because they can be programmed by the manufacturer to record votes in a certain way (ex: for every 5th vote for George Washington, add 3 votes to the tally for John Adams) or, in some cases, can be hacked into by outsiders who want to manipulate the ballot tally.
Part of the distrust arose from a comment by the owner of Diebold in 2004 in which he said he would do everything in his power to "deliver the election" to George W. Bush. Talk about a conflict of interest! Diebold is the manufacturer of the machines used in Ohio.
On the bright side, Harris County (where I used to live) and Denton County both use the eSlate which is manufactured by Hart Intercivic. To my knowledge, the owners of Hart Intercivic have not made inflammatory statements about their loyalty to one party or the other. My experience with Hart Intercivic employees has always been positive and they appear to be completely unbiased and truly caring about recording election results according to the will of the people.
Because the program will not allow a voter to make more than one choice in each race, the over vote problem is a non-issue. Under votes—a voter making no choice in a particular race (either intentionally or accidentally)—will be recorded as no vote in that race.
The major problem with the electronic ballots, according to their most vocal opponents, is the lack of a “voter verifiable paper trail.” Once the votes have been recorded by the machine, there is no way to tell whether the voter actually cast their ballot the way it was recorded in the machine’s memory (unlike paper ballots). The eSlate can be configured to provide a voter verifiable paper trail (a receipt); however, the units being used in Harris and Denton Counties do NOT provide that option.
Ballot stuffing, on the other hand, is more difficult, as there can only be as many ballots cast as there were voters who signed in to that particular polling location. The use of the eScan (the paper ballot optical scanner) in Denton County appears to address the issue of ballot box stuffing as the number of votes recorded on the eScan must match up with the number of voters who signed in at the polling location.
My biggest concern with Electronic Ballots is that many of these machines are not user friendly--this is especially troublesome for older voters, low income voters (who are not comfortable using a computer), and voters with disabilities (either physical or learning). For that reason, I was happy to see that Denton County offers voters a choice between paper and electronic ballots. I did notice, however, that after the paper ballots were filled out, there was a line at the optical scanner and many folks had trouble feeding the paper into the scanner in the right direction. Regardless of which type of ballot you choose, at some point you will have to deal with a machine!
Ben and I voted Monday on electronic ballots. Mom voted by mail on a paper ballot. Benny voted by mail in NM on a paper ballot. So our household is split between the two styles.
Your choice, between paper or electronic, should be based on your understanding of the systems and your personal comfort level with each type of ballot. Denton County offers online training for both the eSlate and the eScan on their website.
When my wife and I early-voted on Monday here in Lewisville (Denton County), we chose to use our drivers licenses rather than to go home and fish out our voter cards. At the check in counter, I noticed the clerk scan the magnetic stripe on the drivers license. It did not occur to me at the time that this time-saving step might look to some like voter-intimidation.
Yesterday, in Clear Lake (Near Houston in Harris County), we got reports that election workers were requiring drivers licenses in addition to the voter cards or other acceptable ID.
State law requires that a voter who is on the rolls be allowed to vote with any acceptable ID. On a voter's first vote with a new registration, proof of residence may be required.
When Clear Lake attorney Amy Corron Power went to vote at the Freeman Library in Clear Lake yesterday, she witnessed poll workers telling potential voters to have their drivers license ready:
I witnessed all of this today, between 10:45 and 11:20 am. at the Freeman Library in Clear Lake, Houston, Texas
At the Freeman Library, in Clear Lake City, there is a poll worker outside where folks are waiting in line, telling everyone "to get out their driver's license, and their voter's registration "if they have it" but the most important thing is their driver's license, because it will need to be scanned to verify their age, name and address." A white older lady asked her, "Do I need my driver's license?" and the poll worker told her no. I said loud enough for the people around me to hear, "there is no law in Texas requiring a driver's license to be scanned to vote."
I went in and deliberately withheld my driver's license, but handed them my voter's registration. No one asked for my driver's license. I am white and 46. They were scanning in driver's licenses of African Americans. However, I did not see them specifically ASK for it once we got into the voting area. But I believe in telling people OUTSIDE they needed it, they may be suppressing the vote, for people who do not have a driver's license and only their voter's registration.
Also, there is a sign that says there can be no cell phones, cameras or any recording devices within 100 feet of the polling place. Which means no one can capture any of this funny business. I did not turn over my cell phone, but I did put it on "silent" No one said anything to me.
Martha Cottingham of the Harris County Democratic Party responded with this:
Just to clarify, this is the first year Harris County is using scanners to ready VR cards and drivers licenses to check in voters. The intent is to speed up the check in. Drivers Licenses are not required. None of the early voting clerks have used this system before this year, so they may not be explaining the process as well as they could to the voters.
However, racial profiling or the appearance of racial profiling is not allowed. I'll pass Amy's report on to the county for follow-up.
We are still trying to confirm with the Secretary of State's office just what the rules are with regard to asking for a Drivers License.