2006 Undervotes Much Higher than 2002 and 1998
Update: A representative of Citizens Alliance for Secure Elections Ohio , Pete Johnson, reports that he has investigated the undervotes in six of these seven counties, and that the undervotes resulted from the abentee ballot scanners in these counties reading two-page absentee ballots as two voters, which resulted in a distorted turnout report. The Secretary of State's office has not yet updated the official 2006 results on their website. Mr. Johnson reports that estimated correct undervotes for US Senator and Governor are in line with other counties in the state in 2006, in the 2-4% range. - Sean Flaherty
In November 2006, seven Ohio counties that used the Diebold TSx touch screen voting machine for the first time had remarkably high undervotes for all statewide offices, from US Senator to State Auditor. The TSx is the same machine that Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner seeks to replace in Cuyahoga County, following problems in last month's elections.
Last year in Adams, Carroll, Darke, Highland, Mercer, Montgomery, and Perry counties, the lowest residual vote rate for any statewide office was 12.7%. The group's 2006 residual rates were much higher than their rates for the same offices in 2002 and 1998, before they adopted the TSx as the primary voting system. Because the TSx is designed to reject overvotes automatically, these residual vote rates likely reflect undervotes.
These undervotes also stand out in comparison to the rest of Ohio in 2006. For Governor and US Senator, the residual vote rate outside this group of seven counties was a maximum of 7%. Ohio's counties used a number of different voting systems in 2006. 47 counties used the Diebold TSx, 10 used the ES&S iVotronic, 3 used blended systems of optically scanned paper ballots with touch screens for accessibility, and 28 used an optical scan system with the AutoMARK ballot-marking device. Counties that used the paper ballot system and those that used iVotronic had consistently lower undervotes. The iVotronic is now notorious for incidents of vote-flipping, security weaknesses, and its association with an implausible undervote rate in the Sarasota, Florida election.
The election data were obtained from the Ohio Secretary of State's website. Residual votes were obtained by comparing the totals for all candidates in a race to the state turnout report.
Direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs, are often marketed as a solution to the problem residual votes, with their automatic rejection of overvotes and their warnings to voters who have not voted a race. Instead, DREs are now commonly associated with undervotes, following Sarasota.
Why these seven Ohio counties had such high undervotes is not clear. It seems unlikely that so many voters would not intend to vote for any statewide office. It is also possible that the undervote comes from absentee ballots, which may have been tabulated on a central-count scanner. At the very least, the undervote becomes another reason to examine the TSx's track record of security vulnerabilites and design flaws.
The machines in Ohio have a voter-verifiable paper trail printer, though most verified voting activists, and a number of computer scientists, are skeptical of its value. Even with its paper trail, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen will not allow the Diebold TSx to be used as a primary voting system in any precinct in California's February 5 primary. Johns Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin "almost had a heart attack" when he learned of the TSx's worst vulnerabilities.
Ohio's 5th Congressional District has a special election for Congress on Tuesday. 11 of the 16 counties in OH-05 use the Diebold TSx as the primary voting system. One of the 11 TSx counties in OH-05, Mercer County, is among the 7 counties with the very high residual vote in 2006. No matter what the cause for Mercer County's undervote in 2006, voters in the district would be well served if the special election were the last to see use of the TSx.
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