With a little help from his friends

by Volker Weber

Yesterday a friend voted early at a polling location in Austin. She voted straight Democratic. When she did the final check, lo and behold every vote was for the Democratic candidates except that it showed she had voted for Bush/Cheney for president/vice pres.

She immediately got a poll official. On her vote, it was corrected. She called the Travis County Democratic headquarters. They took all her information, and told her that she wasn't the first to report a similar incident and that they are looking into it.

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Thank god we don't have electronic voting machines in germany. The good old paper still does a great job. Even the few mechanical voting machines don't ask to much technical knowledge from the voters.

Markus Thielmann, 2004-11-02

She may have used the Voting Machine

Owen Menck, 2004-11-02


There is a significant difference between elections in the US and those in most European countries.

In Europe we cast votes in relatively few contests over a 4-5 year period: European Parliament, National Parliament, Reginal Parliament, City Council. The contests at each election can be catered for by a relatively small number of color-coded paper ballots, each with relatively few boxes in which to place one's Xs. These, in turn, can be placed in ballot boxes, tranported to a counting place, and tabulated rapidly by (albeit large numbers of) human beings.

In the USA, voters cast votes in many hundreds of contests over a 4 year period. Most of these are at a local level where judges, sherrifs, coronors, school board members, and in some case dog catchers, are elected. In some places, there may be close to 100 contests requiring a vote at a single election. Under these circumstances, the paper ballot tabulated by human beings approach just wouldn't be feasible. Hence the need for "voting machines" that perform machine level tabulations.

Finally, with respect to the Austin event, because there are so many contents, voters have the option of voting for a "straight ticket" (democrat, republican, green) across multiple contests. For reasons that aren't clear, in many states (maybe all) a "straight ticket" selection does not apply to the presidential/vice presidential contest. One's selection for president/vice president has to be made separately.

This is almost certainly the cause of the problem in Travis county. One needs to vote separately for the top of the ticket. If one doesn't do this explicitly, one may get caught out.

Now, to the hoops that potential electors have to jump through in many American juristictions to get onto the elctoral rollsa, is also in sharp contrast to how this is achieved in Scotland, and I assume many other places in Europe. Once a year, a named individual in each dwelling place is sent a listing of eligible voters at that dwelling place as of a certain date. They are asked to ammend/update this and return it in a pre-paid envelope. While not perfect, this approach seems to capture well over 90% of those eligible to vote, compared to what is often cited as barely 50% in many US areas.

Nick Shelness, 2004-11-02

It is even easier to update electoral rolls here.

We have a national ID card that is not optional. Every person is registered with their residence. So you get invited to vote automatically. You take your invitation along with your ID card to vote.

However there is currently a trend that less people care to vote, which gives the radical parties a leg up.

Volker Weber, 2004-11-02

Nick, there is a different explanation for the Austin situation offered at snopes.com, and one that I accept.
"Straight party" voting in most cases does include the presidential race. What's more interesting is that new voting methods seem to be mostly eliminating "straight party" vote possibilities -- there was none on my ballot.

Ed Brill, 2004-11-02

Nick, I thought about your explanation once more. Assuming the voter forget to cast a vote for the president, how would it default to Bush instead of trapping an exception?

Volker Weber, 2004-11-02


I wasn't sure if this varied from state to state. Certainly, on mail-in ballots in North Carolina, voting a straight ticket excludes the Presidential race!


The explanation on snopes.com, that the voter inadvertendly selected Bush bt scrolling within a field rather than within a page, is a possibility.

Nick Shelness, 2004-11-02

Nick, thanks for the details about voting in the US, that bit about the number of contests at the same election was real news to me...

OTOH I think that this technical need to tabulate many different contests quickly, should not be allowed to undermine everyones confidence in the electoral process.

Martin Forisch, 2004-11-03

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