Wednesday | October 08, 2003
The Punch Cards Are Still A Problem
It doesn’t look like inferior voting technology effected the result of yesterday’s election in California, but it could have. The ACLU had brought a lawsuit calling for a delay to the California recall election until some of the state’s most heavily populated counties could replace their obsolescent punch card voting machines with newer machines for tabulating votes. The ACLU argued that punch card machines make more tabulating errors, resulting in more lost votes due to no fault of the voter.
So was the ACLU correct? You betcha.
Six counties used punch card voting yesterday—Los Angeles, Mendocino, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Solano. In those counties there were 3,547,744 ballots cast, but only 3,272,956 votes counted on the question of whether or not Gray Davis should be recalled—an undervote of 7.74%. For the rest of the state, the undervote was only 2.28%.
Some of these numbers will change. For instance, two counties—Plumas and Siskiyou—reported the exact same number of ballots cast and votes counted in the recall election. It’s possible the clerks in these counties may have erroneously ruled that a ballot was spoiled if it didn’t contain a vote in the recall election. Orange and El Dorado counties are still counting votes. Some other counties seem to already be correcting clerical errors. And the overall result would not have been different had new voting technology been employed—the recall still passed in those six counties, albeit by a lower margin (53/47) than the rest of the state.
But regardless of some small revisions here and there, yesterday’s vote confirms what many people learned in 2000: if a punch card machine is supposed to count your vote, there's a good chance your vote will never get counted.