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"Fat Fingers" Hamper E-Voters

Volunteers here at Election Protection have been paying particular attention to New York today, since the state experienced serious mechanical issues with its new electronic-voting equipment during the September primary.

But the dark-horse state for mechanical errors has been Pennsylvania. Today, volunteers from Verified Voting—a nonprofit group and member of the Election Protection coalition—have counted 58 calls about mechanical issues from Pennsylvania—one more than the 57 calls coming from New York. (New York officials may have cleaned up their act since Mayor Bloomberg called the voting issues on primary day a “a royal screw up.” See this story in The New York Times on New York City’s preparations.)

In Pennsylvania, the big issue has been “vote flipping,” says Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting. Vote flipping—a common problem with touch-screen voting machines—occurs when a voter touches the screen to vote for one candidate and the screen registers the other candidate instead. It is possible to fix the machines on election day, Smith says, but sometimes the broken machines can be so frustrating to polling workers and voters that they stop using the machines all together, leading to long lines—and even worse, disenfranchised voters. Smith says that while all voting machines have technical issues, touch screens can be particularly problematic, and she was amused (if not a little depressed) to learn that some voters were using Q-tips to vote, she thinks in Pennsylvania, because their fingers were too big and clumsy for the machine to register.

Ironically, Smith says that the problem with Pennsylvania’s faulty machines is probably that they are too old (which is exactly the opposite of the problem in New York, where most of the mechanical issues have come from using brand-new equipment). New York voting does not use touch screens, but rather scanning devices that require voters to fill out a paper ballot and feed it into the machine.

Ten years after the 2000 election, and we still haven't figured out how to make it easy to vote.