The Problems with Vote Centers

This article is to address the push for Vote Centers. Any jurisdictions considering Vote Centers must be warned that they run an increased risk for voting machine malfunction and error and an increased risk for fraud. Officials also must consider the impact on vulnerable populations when their neighborhood polling places are eliminated.

Some readers may not be aware of or even believe in the problems with electronic voting. Please visit this link for this sortable database of voting systems problems, failures, malfunctions etc in the United States. You only need to glance at it to get the picture.

The bar has been set very low for voting machines and their vendors. These voting machines are not “ATM” quality! And we voters do not hold “accounts” with which to check our “vote” account, either, due to the secrecy of the ballot. While computers count quickly, they also suffer from “garbage in, garbage out” syndrome, and exponentially increase the risk of error, malfunction and fraud.

Its shocking but true that the machines sold in just 2006 have technology that is over a decade out of date. It is truly shocking to know that the machines in use in the United States are considered to meet federal standards as long as they do not exceed a 9.2% failure rate in a 15-hour election day.

So one reason not to push for vote centers is that they would require these same machines to run day after day, increasing the likelihood of problems.

But lets say that YOU don’t believe the computer scientists or activists like me when I say we need to minimize our exposure on these machines.

Lets say – that you DO care about the voters, especially the vulnerable segments of the population. Say you think voting should be fair to the elderly sick or poor….Then if so, please read on:

Vote Centers do not “add” to choices for voters, but instead reduce choices for voters.

To pay for Vote Centers, sacrifices are made: Which precincts will be eliminated? Who decides? The number of voting locations and voting machines are cut by as much as 66% or more. Neighborhood election day precincts are often eliminated.

Certain segments of the population have a bigger burden in trying to exercise their right to vote. Vote Centers or Super Precincts don’t serve the voter’s needs or the precise requirements for democratic elections — transparency being one of them. Vote Centers remove places from the neighborhood locations where voters without the means can have easier access.

With Vote Centers, you will see as many as 10,000 votes concentrated at one location, making it easier to commit fraud on a large scale in one fell swoop. The smaller neighborhood polling places offer a buffer against election fraud by keeping the number of votes in one location down to an average of 3,000 ballots or fewer. Voting machine malfunction or a rogue election worker can affect far fewer votes in a neighborhood precinct than in a consolidated vote center.

Larimer County, Colorado is an example of how vote centers can disenfranchise large numbers of people when just one thing goes wrong:

Rocky Mountain News: Elections Nov. 7, 2006. Voters at many of the city’s new 55 voting centers have been encountering long lines, computer problems and an inadequate number of computers to check proof

If the goal is to improve access to voting, then the best solution is to offer a 2 week period of early voting which ceases the week-end before election day, and to continue with neighborhood polling places on election day. This provides the best of both worlds, without creating a barrier to voting for the elderly and poor, and without exposing extremely large numbers of votes to software malfunctions and fraud.

1. Will Vote Centers be on private property, and if so, a) how will voting machines be secured, and b) will electioneering be allowed?

2. How will the poor, elderly, or sick or those with transportation issues get to the vote centers? Do you know what a bus ride across town is like, since vote centers end up being across town. It can take a person hours to get across town and back, and then there’s the wait in line.

3. What is the backup plan in the event of a Larimer County style meltdown?

I wouldn’t expect these Vote Centers to be very busy during small elections, but in General Elections and especially Presidential (the one more voters pay attention to) alot can go wrong and the lines will be a mess.

Will your county provide some sort of transportation for voters that won’t take hours out of their day? Often it is the poor who can’t miss any work time, they won’t get reimbursed.

And when all of your neighborhood polling places are eliminated, who decides where the vote centers will be?

If the goal is to enfranchise the most voters in the fairest way possible, Vote Centers do not meet the goal.

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