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Election Tech: In Canada, They Actually Count the Votes

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the foil-vs.-counterfoil dept.

Canada 500

Presto Vivace writes with this outline of what voting can look like while remaining countable and anonymous — and how it does look north of the U.S. border. "In Canada, they use hand-marked paper ballots, hand counted in public. Among other things, that process means that we can actually be sure who won. And if the elections of 2000 and 2008 are any guide, and the race stays as close as the pollsters sat it is, we might, on Wednesday, November 7, not be sure who won." Any Canadians among our readers who want to comment on this?"

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Perfect (5, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280449)

If we don't know who won, we won't know who to blame.. Exactly what the politician wants.

Re:Perfect (5, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280491)

There is a fundamental flaw in elections today: lack of consideration for "margin of error". In my opinion, margin of error should be calculated and any election which falls within the margin of error should either be held again or some sort of tie breaker should kick in.

Pretending that we can deduce the intention of every voter with zero errors is noble, naive, and ridiculous.

accuracy vs precision (3, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280675)

There is a fundamental flaw in elections today: lack of consideration for "margin of error". In my opinion, margin of error should be calculated and any election which falls within the margin of error should either be held again or some sort of tie breaker should kick in.

Pretending that we can deduce the intention of every voter with zero errors is noble, naive, and ridiculous.

As long as the election precision is within the accuracy of the election measurement then either candidate is equally qualified by definition. Just flip a coin when things are within the margin of error. Things like bad weather, a flu outbreak at school, a big traffic jam, or a huge mega death concert down town can tip the number of voters. Elections are not perfect measurements of citizen will. they are a good approximation. No need to say that one politician got one more vote, he is more qualified. The fact that they are tied tells you they are equally qualified.

IN the national elections the last thing we want is to elect someone who got a few more votes. We want someone who earned their votes from as broad a base as possible. A very good geographic proxy for "broad base" is to outpoll in as many states as possible. This proxy is also useful since the senate has a small state bias that until we eliminate the senate, we need a president who won in a majority of the senators states if he's going to govern.

Thus we need to invent a system that to first order follows the popular vote, but that as it heads towards a tie that the winner is determined by who won in the most states. I just can't think of a good name for such a system.

Re:accuracy vs precision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280851)

What you propose has a name, it would be equivalent to a "mixed proportional system" for picking your "electoral college":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed-member_proportional_representation

Re:accuracy vs precision (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280879)

No need to flip a coin. If it's that close, the residual randomness of the process can be used directly: The candidate with more votes wins. Hardly surprising, this is how it's done already.

Re:Perfect (1)

BabaChazz (917957) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280701)

In fact, I believe it is law that any tally within some defined percentage (2% comes to mind) in any poll triggers an automatic recount, and if the entire riding has a margin of victory less than, I think, 1000 votes, that also triggers a recount.

Re:Perfect (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280857)

The recount thing is cute, but I'm not talking about a recount, which will of course also have a margin of error.

Re:Perfect (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280929)

Yeah, let's keep voting until people CHANGE their opinion of who should be the leader. It won't make the election results any better, just more random than they already are. So stupid.

Re:Perfect (4, Insightful)

nebular (76369) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280859)

Well in Canada we do factor in error. It's called spoiled ballots. And the election is not a statistical analysis of the votes of the population, it is the actual votes. There is no margin of error. You mark your ballot with an X in the proper bubble, which is beside the name and party of the candidate. It's nice and big and so is the name of the person. There are many signs at the polling station that tell you how to vote in very easy to understand pictures and the people running the polling station can easily tell you how to do it without referring to any candidate. If you mess that up, your vote doesn't count.

Margin of error puts the onus on the system. For an election to work the system must be held to a standard of infallibility and that all errors fall on the voter, if it's found not to be the case and is significant to have possibly affected the outcome a re-election is called.

So the margin of error is factored in, but more is taken into consideration than a mathematical equation.

10x the population (1)

PKFC (580410) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280453)

10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

Re:10x the population (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280487)

There's also 10x the number of counters

Re:10x the population (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280507)

10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

Yeah but you also have 10x more people to count the votes, so it isn't an issue.

Re:10x the population (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280545)

Yes, but are there 10x more people who you can count on to count reliably?

Re:10x the population (1)

GuldKalle (1065310) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280655)

I can't see any reason that the share of trusted people in a population should change with population.

Re:10x the population (4, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280517)

There is no reason the system could not scale. Since counts happen at polling station, providing you have enough of them in any district it would not matter whether the population was 30 million, 300 million or a billion.

Re:10x the population (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280557)

And 10x the polling stations to spread it out, and the volunteerism available.

The "too many votes to count" is a red herring in the US. The US population is not that dense. If anything the regional population density in Canada is on average GREATER which makes the whole argument silly.

Re:10x the population (5, Funny)

tofubeer (1746800) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280711)

"The US population is not that dense."

are you sure about that?

Re:10x the population (0)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280827)

It's only 80-90 people per square mile. This is nothing compared to other countries. There is no reason the US could not have distributed paper ballots.

Dense may have more than one meaning. (0)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280865)

Hence that 'Whoosh" you heard.
Now let us consider 'Manifest Density'...

Re:10x the population (4, Informative)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280907)

*whoosh*

Although, his (and your) point is a good one. In the UK we have ~650 people per square mile. In the US it's actually ~84 (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934666.html). The UK generally uses paper ballots, generally does recounts if necessary, and generally has the same over-the-top reporting of live results as they come in. The result is pretty much known the next day.

Sure, cities are where people live, lots more space in the US, yada yada. That's why they have postal and proxy ballot options, and if I can vote, 6000 miles away from where I live, I'm sure the US can figure something out.

Simon.

Re:10x the population (4, Insightful)

Dzimas (547818) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280659)

Everything is easily scaleable. The count is done at the local level, with representatives from the major parties on hand to watch as the votes are tallied. It's a relatively quick process that usually only takes two or three hours (it can be slowed somewhat by spoiled ballots). In CEOs where the count is close, candidates can request a recount, a process that takes several days. All in all, it's a system that I trust more than electronic voting machines, simply because you *can* recount and reexamine all of the voter's original ballots. You can also have observers (from major parties and Elections Canada) actually watching the process in real time at thousands of polling stations, whereas an electronic system has the potential for massive centralized fraud.

Re:10x the population (2)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280713)

You also have 10x more people who could count. Therefore, the size argument is a non issue. In Germany (60 mio) we can count the votes by hand (to be precise, we must count them by hand, all other methods have been judged to be intransparent and therefore not applicable to an election). And on European-elections (300 mio voters) we do the same in most countries. So it should be possible to do that in the US as well.

Re:10x the population (4, Informative)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280745)

10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

It works fine in the GTA(Greater Toronto Area). The population there is around 7.8m people. We just use more polling areas to make sure everything is accountable. The same reason why we have a voter ID system in place, because it bloody well works. [elections.ca] Remember where it says "oath in front of an election officer, with them swearing for one person" Perjury in Canada can land you upto 14 years in jail. And the judge will throw the book at you. Perjury is a serious crime here.

errare humanum est (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280455)

Actually, we can be quite sure there will be errors in the manual count. The trick is to make the results official and accept them anyway.

Re:errare humanum est (1, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280769)

Actually, you can be very reasonably sure that there won't be any errors. Unless you are going to presume that the polls are manned by people who are dishonest. At the end of the day, once voting is over, every individual ballot box is counted (and witnessed, usually by one other person) as many times as it takes to be quite thoroughly convinced of an accurate count.

In Canada, we ask... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280461)

Hey Terrance, guess who I voted for?
Who?
[Deep, hard farting]
AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

not necessary (1)

noh8rz9 (2716595) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280465)

as someone who worked the polls in US in 2004 and 2006, I dont' think this is necessary. nor do I think teh voter id laws or whatever crap are needed. an educated person knows that you can use statistics to determine when results are fine and when they are questionable.

here's the key fact - it doesn't matter what the vote count is, it matters who has more than 50%. so if you do a count and estimate that a candidate got 55% of the vote, you can use math to determine what are the odds that the actual vote count is
second, you can compare results across counties and states to find any statistical outliers, and investigate those further if they are deemed necessary.

Re:not necessary (3, Insightful)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280499)

So, you're saying that faith in statistics is better than knowing for sure with an actual count?

FYI: You can use more than one person to count the votes.

Re:not necessary (1)

noh8rz9 (2716595) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280799)

why do you think you can "know for sure" an actual vote count? do you "know for sure" exactly how many people are in the US? of course not. but through statistical samples you can calculate a number that you have good faith in. fact: spend a billion dollars to hand-count every vote in the US, and here a big wooshing sound as thousand of tea-pottiers drop their "FRAUDZ!" and rail against wasteful gov't spending.

Re:not necessary (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280913)

Heh, statistically, I have a much better chance of accuracy through a hand count, and you don't have to 'spend a billion dollars' to do it transparently. See, basically that's the argument. Your faith in statistics is misplaced, too easy to fudge. No, I suspect those who are against this are under the influence of some other motivation.

Re:not necessary (1)

noh8rz9 (2716595) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280939)

wrong.

Re:not necessary (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280539)

Looking for obvious statistical anomalies only works if the person faking the data doesn't understand statistics.

Re:not necessary (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280957)

It may have eluded your keen powers of observation, but this article was talking about Canada, not the USA. Even only counting "major" parties (ones that might be considered "viable" by most of the voters), we have somewhat more than two.

I'm Canadian (5, Insightful)

iplayfast (166447) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280477)

It gives the little old men and ladies a nice part time job for a while, and good times are had by all. I used to think that computer voting would be better but now that I've seen it in action, I'm glad we stuck to hand counting. Also it's fun watching the result get tallied, it's not instant so there is some buildup/drama.

Voting as entertainment and job market. :)

Re:I'm Canadian (3, Insightful)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280611)

The problem is we havent seen TRUE computer voting in action. What we have seen is vested 3rd parties push machines on us that OBVIOUSLY can be backdoor'd. Any one of us here could design an e-voting system that outclasses anything made by Diebold, if only for the fact that we wouldnt be trying to backdoor it on purpose.

Re:I'm Canadian (5, Interesting)

Daas (620469) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280747)

I'm also Canadian, from the wonderful province of Québec.

A couple of years ago, they did some kind of "super city elections". Pretty much every city and village of the province had elections held on the same day, most of them using an electronic voting system. It was, I think, the best type available : your ballot wasn't any different then the one we're used to, just white circles on a black background. The difference was that instead of putting it in a box, you'd put it in a scanner first and it would fall in a bin after that. Re-counting, if necessary was pretty straight forward.

It was, however, the last time I saw electronic voting used in the province. Because of electoral law, the electronic ballots were kept at the voting stations until they were closed, the scanners would then upload their results in batch onto the servers of the company that had been chosen to do the counting. It failed miserably, possibly because of the amount of data they had to process at once, most probably because they had a web facing interface where you could go and watch the results coming in live. Most ballot boxes had to be recounted by hand and the results had to be phoned in.

Re:I'm Canadian (1)

nebular (76369) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280905)

Yeah we had the same thing in our last municipal elections here in Peterborough Ontario. Worked well, probably because it wasn't large scale. The paper trail is the important part. The problem is not the machines counting the votes, it's the machines also recording the votes for you. I'll mark my choice myself thank you very much.

Re:I'm Canadian (1)

Guspaz (556486) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280909)

A couple of years ago, they did some kind of "super city elections". Pretty much every city and village of the province had elections held on the same day

This is how every municipal election works (I'd say "and has always worked" but I don't know how long it's been like that) in Quebec, and most of the rest of Canada too:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Municipal_elections_in_Canada [wikipedia.org]

Re:I'm Canadian (5, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280763)

The problem is we havent seen TRUE computer voting in action.

You're right. In the end, it's still the people who vote. It's time to change that. ;-)

Re:I'm Canadian (1)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280933)

I get your joke, but in that case, that's not true: Diebold certainly used computer-generated votes in 2004 to give Dubya the election. Karl Rove even had the Intertubes routed straight to the White House so they could observe.

Its Not like that matters (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280481)

Hand counting votes seem so incredibly antiquated and prone to errors. Its not like we rely on hand counting of money by bank tellers do know how much money is being transacted. In fact, I can't think of anything else where we would want things done by hand versus machine in the 21st century.

So really Canada, it shows why they are so irrelevant and so cute.

Re:Its Not like that matters (5, Interesting)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280735)

Hand-counting may be prone to errors, but the errors are small and localized. It would take enormous resources to get away with massive fraud in a hand-counted system.

With electronic voting, on the other hand, you only need to exploit one flaw in the system to perpetrate massive undetectable fraud.

In fact, I can't think of anything else where we would want things done by hand versus machine in the 21st century.

What a ridiculous statement. Sometimes new technology is just new, not better. If you want to throw democracy down the sewer, then by all means go for electronic voting. As a Canadian, I'm happy to stick with our old, understandable and reliable technology.

How many Canadian ballots are there anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280483)

There aren't that many Canadians. The Count [youtube.com] could count them in a day and still have time for all his Ah ha ha ha's.

Re:How many Canadian ballots are there anyway? (2)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280749)

The population of Canada is about 34 million, which is a bit less than the population of California.

SInce the population of counters scales with the population of voters, hand-counting votes is O(log N) complexity and can easily scale to a country like the USA.

The O(log N) factor comes from the need to aggregate votes which is most efficiently done with a tree structure of aggregators.

distributed operations- hand count details (4, Informative)

RichMan (8097) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280485)

We get away with hand counting because any one poll (vote collection point) is less than a thousand people. Each riding is many polls.

See Elections Canada for Details: what happens after a vote -
http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=bkg&document=ec90565&lang=e [elections.ca]

Following the close of a polling station, the deputy returning officer in an electoral district counts the votes, in the presence of the poll clerk, and any candidates or their representatives who are present, or, if none are present, in the presence of at least two electors. Before the count, the deputy returning officer must, in the following order:

        * count the number of electors who voted and enter the number in the poll book

        * count the spoiled ballots, place them in the envelope provided for that purpose, indicate the number of spoiled ballots on the envelope and seal it

        * count the unused ballots, place them in the envelope provided for that purpose, indicate their number on the envelope and seal the envelope

        * ensure that all ballots provided are accounted for

The deputy returning officer then empties the contents of the ballot box onto a table to proceed with the count.

During the count, the deputy returning officer examines each ballot, shows it to each person present and asks the poll clerk to tally the vote in favour of the candidate for whom the vote was cast. The poll clerk (along with any of the candidates or their representatives who also wish to do so) keeps a tally of the votes for each candidate.

Re:distributed operations- hand count details (1)

turkeyfeathers (843622) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280621)

And then they approach the winning candidate, and say "you won, eh!"

Re:distributed operations- hand count details (1)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280943)

The other guy gets a, "Take off, hoser!"

Re:distributed operations- hand count details (5, Informative)

ThaumaTechnician (2701261) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280789)

It's important to mention that the ballots were redesigned after the 1995 referendum so that the voter's choice is clear and unambiguous. See here: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bc/2011_ballot.jpg/800px-2011_ballot.jpg [wikimedia.org] Mark one of the circles only (an X, fill the circle in, whatever), and it's OK. Mark more than one, the ballot is spoiled. In addition, by law, each citizen gets four continuous hours to vote. That is, somewhere in the twelve hours that the polls are open, your employer has to schedule you so that you can get four uninterrupted hours to vote. So if you local poll open times are 8:30 am - 8:30 pm, and your work schedule is 9:00 am to 6:00 PM, your employer MUST either start your day at 12:30 PM, or end it at 4:30 PM. In all the voting I've done in Canada, the whole process, from the time I've walked into a polling station to the time I've walked out, has seldom been longer than half and hour and never longer than an hour. No, I've never had to queue outside.

Right is better than fast (4, Interesting)

aegl (1041528) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280495)

Why is there an obsession with getting the the results of an election within hours/minutes of the polls closing?

In the USA elections are in early November, POTUS isn't sworn in until mid January. Take a week or two to count the votes.

Re:Right is better than fast (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280569)

Hell, it's more than feasible to count the votes in a few hours by hand, no need to wait weeks.

Re:Right is better than fast (4, Informative)

cpghost (719344) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280571)

Take a week or two to count the votes.

Why take so long? In Germany (population 80 millions), where they manually count the votes like in Canada using a highly distributed system, it usually takes less than 6 to 10 hours to _complete_ the counting for the federal elections. In practice though, exit polls and the first intermediary results (Hochrechnungen) are usually very close to the final result, so it is seldom a cliffhanger that lasts deep into election night.

Re:Right is better than fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280619)

In canada, counting the ballot take about 2 hours. I worked on numerous one so I know.

Re:Right is better than fast (4, Informative)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280605)

In darkest Africa us 40 million South Africans vote manually, count manually and verify by holding each ballot up so that the polling station members can all agree. And we still finish counting by the next day.

Re:Right is better than fast (1)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280665)

The problem of that, the show cannot be marketed that good by the media, if it takes that long. From a democratically point of view, this is a non issue. However, in a mediacracy country, like the US, the show is important not the results. You need a winner and a loser. And you need it fast. The drama is performed through the pre-election-campaigns with the selection of the candidates, where there is a winner and loser all the time. In the end one wins this phase (Mitt Romney) and is now ready to face to prime enemy (Barack Obama). They battle it out in the media. And at the top of the dramaturgy, there are the elections. They need an immediate winner. A winner one week later will produce a hole of one week. This not good for the story and it is not good for the show.

Therefore: Fast is better than right. (Not that I like that, they wanted to introduce those voting machines in my country too, the Supreme Court stopped that)

Re:Right is better than fast (3, Insightful)

TrevorB (57780) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280941)

In Canada we *get* the results of the election within hours of the polls closing, usually 2 or 3. That's with four federal parties who make the math of who exactly won a little more difficult.

Hand counting isn't as slow as you think it is when you have enough people organized to do the job properly.

paper ballots... recognized as the gold standard (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280527)

Was it Nixon, or Roosevelt who took us off the gold standard?

Americans have become amongst the most compliant people on earth. They'll do anything for an extra channel on the satellite.

Re:paper ballots... recognized as the gold standar (1)

cpghost (719344) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280685)

Well, there's a choice between hand counting paper ballots on one side xor letting computers decide the elections (while still permitting a human factor of uncertainty [wikipedia.org] ).

Re:paper ballots... recognized as the gold standar (1)

sphealey (2855) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280723)

Under present economic conditions the euro is essentially a gold standard for the less-developed nations (Greece, Spain, etc). You can see how well that is working out for them.

sPh

Politicians are actually allowed to govern (3, Informative)

Strider- (39683) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280549)

The real difference is that when we vote, all we vote for is the local representative. Unlike the US, we actually allow the politicians to govern, for better or worse. What we don't have is a gazillion citizens initiatives demanding that the government spend money on new projects while preventing the government from raising taxes to support these projects.

Enshrined within the constitution is the premise of parliamentary supremacy, which is exactly as it sounds. The vote of Parliament is supreme, it can even override the supreme court (though only for a period of 5 years). Binding referendums are thus, by definition, unconstitutional, and thus we don't have to do this stupid crap on election day.

If we don't like what they do, we turf 'em out in the next election. (Also, we have more than two realistic choices on the ballot paper)

Re:Politicians are actually allowed to govern (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280649)

Yeah, let's just ignore the election fraud, proroguing, and general corruption that's been going on lately. Every time I turn around it's another circle jerk about Canada.

The grass is NOT greener up here folks, we just do a better job of painting it that way.

I love this country, and if all people ever do is spout off out about how great it is while at the same time sweeping growing problems under the carpet and silencing criticism, we're going to wind up in the shitter, fast. You should the people and the media up here bragging constantly about how great our banking system is and how we won't have a housing crash because we're not stupid like the Americans. It's sickening, and makes me ashamed of my country. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that we're on the exact same trajectory as the US was, the main difference is that our banks are pre-bailed out through CMHC (a gov't entity that insures most mortgages in the country, much like Fannie Mae).

Re:Politicians are actually allowed to govern (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280855)

I'm sorry, but that is an oversimplification of the system. We also have an appointed senate, for which the governing party appoints their representatives to seats made vacant during their reign. And, there is the massively disproportionate representation of seats for Central and Eastern Canada.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the later. I'm old enough to remember the Meech Lake Accord that the politicians tried to ram down our throats. A guaranteed minimum of 25% representation in parliament for Quebec regardless of their population (hyperbole to make the point: 1 person could hold 25% control of the country). During that time a seasoned politician called me to garner my support. When I pointed out that 25% of the house was 50% of a majority and (since they traditionally vote as a block) effectively all but guaranteed control of the country, she wasn't able to follow the math.

Luckily, we had a referendum, the people demonstrated they were smarter than their representatives, and the accord was struck down.

I love this country (although that has been tested as of late), and I think there's a lot of good in it. But, we have a lot of work to do on ensuring equal representation, and a fair sharing of moneys and resources (yep, I'm from the west and I said it) among the people of the country. Not just the old school elite and the extortionists.

Call this post a flame or whatever you want, I stand by my truth.

Just saying... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280553)

If we did that we would always be sure to accurately count both valid and fraudulent votes.

And in Australia... (3, Insightful)

ajdlinux (913987) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280561)

In Australia, for most purposes we still use paper ballots. (There are a few exceptions - ACT territory elections have *optional* computer-based voting, and NSW state elections have an *optional* online voting system for some absentee or disabled voters.)

On election night, officials at every polling place - who are required to sign a declaration, under penalty, that they are not politically active - do an initial hand count of first-preference votes (yes, we have IRV and STV ballots here) and the votes for the top two front runners. These are the numbers that make their way to the internet in a matter of minutes and are used for the election night media coverage - but they actually have no legal significance at all, they're basically purely for the media coverage.

The real counting happens the week after election day, when all ballots are transported to the local electoral office for counting. For elections that use IRV ballots (e.g. the federal House of Representatives), the ballots are all hand counted. For STV ballots (e.g. the federal Senate), they do use computer based counting, however the paper ballots are retained and a hand count can be done if necessary. If there are any issues that arise, the Returning Officer has the discretion to order a recount as necessary, without necessarily needing court orders or anything like that.

The *entire process* - opening the polls, conducting the polling, closing the polls, the first count, the second count, and any recounts - takes place in front of candidate-appointed scrutineers (not quite as good as being public, but it's close enough). Every candidate can appoint scrutineers to witness the whole process and make objections.

And this is how Australia has elections that are virtually unchallengeable - for a typical federal election, there will usually be at most one serious dispute, and only in districts with the tiniest of margins where they need a judge to make the final decision. Heck, we're experimenting with computer-based and internet-based voting systems, and no-one's raising concerns because the Electoral Commission has such a high reputation for integrity and accuracy.

Re:And in Australia... (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280845)

Same in Sweden - paper ballots, hand counted. And ID check at the voting station.

Canadian comment (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280567)

Sure, I can comment.

Elections canada uses people from the local ridings to physically count the paper ballots. My friend's mom used to volunteer, perhaps she still does. These are paper ballots that are an unambiguous record of the votes cast. While I often don't like the results, since observers can (and do) watch the ballot counting process, and since one can simply count the physical artifacts of the vote again, I tend not to mistrust the results.

The process is sound. In the US there are 10 times as many people, so go get yourself 10 times as many volunteers. You'll have results in real time, just as we do.

Watch my words, I tend not to mistrust the results. Anyone who wants to use another, less simple and tamper proof method with less observability or less permanent physical artifacts would cause me to mistrust them and any process they propose. Voting machines are neither an observable process (can't observe software running) nor do they generate physical artifacts (oops, the software printed the wrong candidate on the tape, too bad you were disenfranchised and didn't notice/couldn't change it).

further detail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280573)

I've been a scrutineer at a few provincial elections in BC, Canada.

Each voting area has a number of voting stations. Each voting station has a few non-partisan workers who check people off the list of registered voters, hand out voting slips, accept the marked voting slips, and at the end of the night, count the votes. Each voting station may also have a scrutineer from each party. The scrutineer is there to observe that nothing fishy happens during the voting process and that the counting is legit. The volunteers don't know which party the scrutineers represent and the scrutineers are not allowed to tell them (scrutineers can generally guess which party the other scrutineers come from, by process of elimination if nothing else).

The vote counting gets done that night, the results are known that night. It's dead simple.

German elections (3, Interesting)

prefec2 (875483) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280591)

In Germany, we had a long discussion about voting machines in recent years. In the end the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Supreme Court) decided, that present voting machines are not able to provide the necessities for a democratic elections, as it has to be anonymous, equal, and verifiable by any person. A computer counting votes, does not allow any verification. A computer with a paper trail, is hard to evaluate, as the log must be visible to the voter and if there went something wrong it must be changeable. Even though, it must be ensured that the machine is not printing extra votes, which would require someone standing beside the machine all time. Therefore, they ruled them inadequate for any election in Germany.

Beside that, they are still able to present exit polls, right after closing of the polling stations, and the preliminary results, are presented on the same evening. This is fast enough for my taste. The verified result is presented some days later. But, all elections can be recounted at a later time, by anyone if he or she is not satisfied by the results.

Re:German elections (2)

gb (8474) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280741)

One has to be careful about exit polls. In the 1992 UK general election, an exit poll of 10% of the voters turned out to predict the wrong result by more than could be explained by pure statistical chance. It turned out that a significant proportion of the electorate had "forgotten" which way they voted and said that they'd voted for the other party. It was an interesting evening watching the BBC's swingometer swing past the margin of error as the actualy results came in (being a country with a high population density and a simple voting system means we get the first fully counted official result within about 45 minutes and it's only if there are tight recounts that there are any results going much past breakfast the next day). Needless to say the exit polls now include a weighting factor for "too embarassed to admit who you voted for..."

Re:German elections (2)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280867)

That - and the fact that some people loves to mess up statistics.

How many votes are they counting? (1)

vtrhps (556252) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280599)

I am a poll worker in Virginia and work at the absentee precinct, where we receive all the absentee ballots for the county. We process the paper ballots and run them through an optical scanner. Self-printed ballots (typically received from military overseas), ones with tears, and ones unreadable by the scanner are put aside for handcounting. This is typically less than 20% of the ballots.

For small elections, the hand counting process can take 1-2 hours, depending on the number of races. In 2008, that process took over 7 hours because of the number of ballots involved (thousands).

While we can process and feed the ballots all day, we're not allowed to start tallying until after the poll closing time (7pm). I cannot imagine how long this process would take if all ballots were paper and hand tallied. Easily days. If you thought the 2000 presidential election stretched on too long, imagine not knowing who won for a week.

And this is not including the in-person absentee ballots received the month prior to election day using computer polling stations (we just print out the totals from each station).

Re:How many votes are they counting? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280721)

It sounds like you really just need more staff. In Canada we generally have the results well before morning, with poll stations closing as late as 9 PST. Comments on this story from German and South African voters suggest that it takes them about 6-10 hours as well.

...that being said, your absentee ballots are probably more technically complicated than the very basic "fold, tear, and chuck" ballots we use in Canada. Damage to them is comparatively rare since they're only in the voter's hand for two minutes, and you can always ask for a replacement.

Re:How many votes are they counting? (1)

Strider- (39683) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280751)

The ballots are counted by hand at each polling station. From what I understand, there are roughly 1000 ballots cast per polling station. In larger cities, such as where I live, you'll actually have what amounts to 3 or 4 polling stations co-located in a single location, but each has its own returning officer, counters, scrutineers, etc... It's a very scalable architecture when you think about it.

Polling stations, much the same as in the US, are typically in community centres, libraries, church basements, and other public places.

Anyhow, in the end, the results are tallied and returned within about 2 to 3 hours of the polls closing. Of course, due to the fact that this country is 4.5 time zones wide, and most of the population is concentrated in the eastern time zone, the election results are usually known before the polls close on the west coast.

Re:How many votes are they counting? (3, Insightful)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280771)

The technique being used is wrong. High speed manual counting doesn't need optical machines, it needs a separate ballot page for each vote item ie president, mayor etc. Those ballots get seperated at the polling station when they are placed into the sealed ballot boxes.

Once counting starts, two people take a box, dump it out and seperate the ballots into piles, one for each candidate. You use two so that nobody can cheat. Then you count the piles. That's the basic methodology.

South Africa takes it further, we validate that the ballot has been stamped by the IEC, the elections body, and have party representatives involved in the verification. Our last national election had 17,919,966 ballots cast, 239,237 marked as spoiled and we counted in under a day and ran live TV broadcasts following the results.

The practice of putting many choices on single forms complicates the counting to the point you need optical machines to count it for you, and that is bad.

All that is needed is a simple ballot and polling stations spread with a suitable density, normally 6000-8000 voters.

You know where else they hand count the ballots? (4, Funny)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280607)

Florida.

Chad (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280661)

As long as you're using clearly marked ballots, and least you can figure out who one by careful counting even if it takes a few days. It's been 12 years since the 2000 election [wikipedia.org] and we still don't *really* know who won.

Oh, and the Electoral College doesn't help much either - why should it be possible for a candidate to lose the election despite having a majority of the popular vote!?

Re:Chad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280871)

This is just from memory, so it could easily be wrong. But I recall reading an article that said a couple of Florida news papers got together and finance a complete recount. The kicker was that they counted the votes using two different methods to distinguish who a vote was for.

One method was the method proposed by the Bush campaign. The other method was the one proposed by the Gore campaign.

The interesting part of the result is that had they used the method the Gore campaign wanted, Bush would have one. If they used the method the Bush campaign wanted, Gore would have one.

The true answer is that, as an early post talked about, the election was within the margin of error. There is no way to determine a winner and Florida has no law to deal with that.

If the Supreme Court had been really ballsy, they could have invalidated the results of a few close states, and set it up so that one of the states with a tie-breaker law would have ended up deciding the election. Of course if that state had been Arizona, the presidential election could have been decided by single high card draw.

I also have a distinct impression that if you got Gore alone today and asked him about the election, he would respond that he really dodged a bullet there.

I've done this (5, Informative)

Webs 101 (798265) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280683)

I'm in Montreal and I've served as a scrutineer. The system works pretty much as described in the article, but I can add a few details.

The voting section of the ballot is done with blank/white circles on a black background. This way, there is no confusion about making marks outside the lines. One circle and one circle only must have a mark for it to be a valid vote. The ballot is fairly large, maybe four by five inches or so, and that allows plenty of space between circles.

The counterfoils are strips that are torn off the ballot with the help of perforations in the paper. The counterfoils are saved in a plastic bag and the number of counterfoils is compared to the number of cast ballots as part of the process of counting votes. It's a simple process, but there is some human error. When I did it, the two numbers didn't match up. We were off by one or two, as I recall.

The biggest problem we had, and a potential source of fraud the scrutineers can do nothing about, is the list of registered voters. We get a stack of papers stapled together that contain the names and addresses of all voters eligible to vote at our poll (there are several polls at each voting location). This list tells us who has already voted in advance polls. Either some of these are in error or some voters don't remember going to the advance polls, but we had a few cases in which we had to refuse voters because they were marked as having already voted. Some of them got really angry, but there is nothing we at the polls can do about that.

The voting and counting are open to the public and to party witnesses. Anybody can watch the process take place, but it is absolutely hands off for them.

The hand-counting doesn't take very long. Each polling station (ballot box) only has to count a few hundred votes, which is then reported to the officer in charge of the voting location, and so on up the chain. The entire station - ballots, papers, counterfoils, etc. - are sealed in the box with special tape and returned, so that any recounts would be easy to accomplish.

Re:I've done this (3, Informative)

Webs 101 (798265) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280753)

Sorry. I wasn't a scrutineer, of course. I ran the polling station. I may be going a tad senile.

Re:I've done this (2)

rueger (210566) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280925)

Worth noting that it used to be the norm for Elections Canada to do door to door enumeration prior to elections to make sure that the voters' list was up to date and complete.

Several years back the government of the day eliminated that practice - probably under the guise of saving money - so that now the voters' list is of considerably less use - hence the rules to allow people to register at the polls, and the sometimes questionable practices [wikipedia.org] that follow.

Needless to say, the people who fall off of the voters' list tend to be those who are most mobile - the young, the unemployed, the homeless - in other words, the ones most likely to vote on the Left of the political spectrum.

Yes, I'm saying that was intentional.

How they really count ballots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280691)

A number of years ago, the City of Los Angeles used my computer to count ballots for an election. Election officials told me that the entire process of counting ballots election night was just for the press. The real counting started the next day, when they started all over again. Checking the voting records for each precinct, copying the punch cards to tape again, reading the tapes backwards to make sure nothing was dropped - and raising a stink when the counts were different.

It took two weeks, and the results were the same. They were just more confident of the results.

Re:How they really count ballots (1)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280791)

It took two weeks...

Two weeks to count the ballots in a municipal election?? Do they not teach counting in kindergarten in LA? :)

Fundamental difference in philosophy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280709)

Having lived for equal time in the US and Canada, I have noticed a fundamental difference in philosophy towards the voting process. The US seems to be very laissez faire. It is up to the citizen to figure it all out. The citizen must find out what needs to be done such as registration, where to do it and even just how to find the location of the necessary information. When I moved back to the US from Canada and wanted to vote, my voter registration card simply had "community center" as my voting location. I had to find a non-profit web site which listed voting locations to find out what community center and where it was located. We have never received any voting information of any type from the government.

On the other hand, the Canadian government not only wants citizens to vote but gives them all of the information they need in order to vote. When living in Canada, we received mailed notices from the government which stated the time, place and procedure. Making it very easy to vote.

Who better to give out the voting information than the organization which wrote the rules and requirements? Why must it all be left to partisan non-profits in the US?

Polling places (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280729)

The Canadian descriptions of voting procedures are nice. But now we'd have to modify them to account for our (Washington State) and other states 100% vote by mail process. Don't get me wrong, I think it can be done. But the whole mail-in process opens up other cans of worms.

One thing vote by mail does is to eliminate the whole electronic voting machine fraud issue. There is a paper trail. It can be re-counted. I fear the day we switch to Internet voting. This is the home of Microsoft and I don't want some Russian script kiddie elected as our governor.

Vote counting is the least of the USA's problems (5, Insightful)

wiwa (905999) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280737)

Of all the things Canadians can mock about U.S. elections, your difficulty in counting up the votes isn't even the top of the list. The most mind-boggling thing is that your election campaigns take most of a year, ensuring that for about 20% of the election cycle, any given politician (including the president) is basically unable to engage in their actual job of governing the country and is instead campaigning. In Canada, election campaigns typically last about six weeks; before the election is officially called, campaigning is prohibited. The result is that politicians can spend vastly more time doing their jobs and campaigns cost vastly less money.

Oh, and don't get me started on how incredibly bad an idea it is to have elected judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, etc. Here (Ontario) I think there are only five officials we actually vote for: representatives in federal and provincial legislatures, city councilor, mayor, and school board trustee. Everyone else is appointed, usually de facto by committee.

Re:Vote counting is the least of the USA's problem (2)

Strider- (39683) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280777)

Here in lotusland, we also elect the park board. :) That said, in BC at least, I don't know why they still bother with school boards. The province has basically tied the hands of the school boards in terms of curriculum, negotiating with teachers, etc... so I really don't see why it's an elected thing any more.

Re:Vote counting is the least of the USA's problem (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280927)

In fact one of the school boards did up a budget that the provincial BC Liberals disagreed with. They fired the (democratically elected) board.

Re:Vote counting is the least of the USA's problem (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280823)

The duration of the voting process is there to satisfy the needs of our media machines. Expenditures for political advertising are directly related to the length of the campaign season. And the profits go right into the pockets of media owners.

The result of this is that a campaign in the USA is far more expensive than one in your (or other) countries with shorter seasons. And this drives the need of our politicians to raise large amounts of cash in order to sustain their next run for office. Cash that just goes into media's pockets. This preoccupies our leadership to a greater extent than the campaign itself. One other side effect is that this cash (also called 'free speech') in our country keeps politicians beholding to the special interests that raise it to support them. p>Shorter campaign seasons, less money needed from contributions, less influence over politics by moneyed (and not always domestic) special interests, better decision making for the good of the country rather than the few. Good things all around. So it will never happen

What does it matter? (1)

Time_Ngler (564671) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280775)

If it's that close that it's difficult to count, does it really matter who wins?

Every election the candidates adjust their position in various issues in order to pickup different demographics of voters. Both of them compete by slicing up the American public based on different categories of group think, and picking a side on each issue. It's a like a complex game of Go where both competitors give up ground in some areas to take ground in others. And like in most Go games, the result is a near 50% split of captured area.

Given the above, if the wrong as far as you're considered candidate wins this term, it's not going to change anything in the long run, because next election, the game will start over, the issues divided between the candidates, and the result again will be a near 50/50 split. So in the end, it's a chaotic process, and regardless whether you accept the candidate who wins this term, you'll still have around a 50% chance of accepting or rejecting the next candidate who will win next term.

Underlying assumption (1)

sphealey (2855) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280781)

As a person fairly knowledgeable about technology and what can go wrong during its implementation and use, I am somewhat dubious about the use of unauditable unverifiable, proprietary computer systems for voting. However, many discussions of this issue are based on an underlying assumption that paper ballots and hand counting have an error rate of zero and a margin of error of 0%, and that is not the case. With the best will and good intentions in the world human beings handling 120 million pieces of paper will make mistakes, ballots will get torn, ballot boxes lost in transit, etc. Not saying it is worse than computer systems owned by big-dollar donors to a specific political party, but it is not perfect.

sPh

Re:Underlying assumption (1)

Strider- (39683) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280821)

As a person fairly knowledgeable about technology and what can go wrong during its implementation and use, I am somewhat dubious about the use of unauditable unverifiable, proprietary computer systems for voting. However, many discussions of this issue are based on an underlying assumption that paper ballots and hand counting have an error rate of zero and a margin of error of 0%, and that is not the case. With the best will and good intentions in the world human beings handling 120 million pieces of paper will make mistakes, ballots will get torn, ballot boxes lost in transit, etc. Not saying it is worse than computer systems owned by big-dollar donors to a specific political party, but it is not perfect.

The record of the voting system in Canada is extremely good. Judicial recounts, which automatically occur when a result is within (I believe) 1% or some such, often don't change the result by more than a few votes, out of upwards of 20,000 cast in a given riding (Electoral district for you yanks). Each ballot is counted, in full view of multiple people, generally representing the major political parties involved and others. If there is any hanky panky happening, it would be in the news very quickly.

The US situation (3, Informative)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280785)

I've spoken to some Americans about this, and they say one problem with US elections is that the ballots are humongous. Many states allow voters to vote on propositions during election time, so when it comes time to vote you really have to cast tens of votes for all kinds of different things. (Any Americans want to confirm this?)

So obviously the solution to this is: Don't do that. Simplify things and get rid of the whole "Proposition X" nonsense. It certainly does nothing to improve democracy, but it's excellent at dividing communities and driving state and local governments into bankruptcy.

Re:The US situation (2)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280915)

You can do that by color coding the paperballots in different colors so you dont get them confused and can put them in the right box of votes. For example blue paper ballots for presidental race, red for senate, white for house of reprasentatives, green for local elections and yellow, pink etc for propositions.

Re:The US situation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280955)

So obviously the solution to this is: Don't do that. Simplify things and get rid of the whole "Proposition X" nonsense. It certainly does nothing to improve democracy, but it's excellent at dividing communities and driving state and local governments into bankruptcy.

The number of propositions on most ballots I've been through isn't that large. The length of the ballot is really caused by the federated nature of government in the United States. The federal government is more or less limited to national affairs, and generally people vote for 1-3 federal races at a time. The state government is almost unrestricted to other matters, and depending on the state, there are about 5-20 positions to vote for (depending on whether you vote for cabinet-level people and judges). Then local governments are created by the states, and you might vote for 2-10 different races for that. (You'll also note that there are a lot of people in the US who might not like all the ballot initiatives, but would be aggressively against removing them entirely on the thought that it eliminates direct democracy).

Not all of these happen at the same time, but there is increased clustering during Presidential election years, which leads to long "bedsheet" length ballots. And thus most people rarely make it to end of those (and the ballot initiatives are placed at the very end, if there are any--that depends on how easy the state makes it to get ballot initiatives on the ballot). However turnout and participation is still much better in the Presidential election year. So you trade off the long ballot in the "on" years to nonexistent turnout in "off" years (like 10-20%).

The other thing for people to realize, in addition to this separation of authority and federation being hardcoded into the US system, it also makes it incredibly difficult to change how elections are conducted. It's almost exclusively up to each individual state, and they in turn can delegate it to the local governments. So you wind up with a diversity of election systems. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some counties in the US that do total manual hand counting. And there's nothing stopping states from doing that tomorrow (they just have to pay for it!).

Also hand-counted on paper in the UK (1)

Mithent (2515236) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280793)

The system is similar in the UK. You go to your assigned polling station (of which there are many - probably no more than a few thousand voters per station, at least those I have known). You hand in the polling card that was posted to you in advance, or provide ID, and your details are checked, marked off, and you get a paper card. You walk to a booth enclosed on two sides, place an X next to the candidate you want to vote for, fold it and place it in the box. When the polls close, the boxes are sealed, and then that night or the next day the votes are counted by hand. I don't know exactly how the scrutineering is performed, but the low numbers of voters per polling station makes this feasible.

Computer voting when? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280825)

Is it so hard to simply install touchscreens and have us vote through them, with the main PC parts being guarded, filmed and what not, not connect to the internet until it's over?

Re:Computer voting when? (2)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280923)

How do you film a virus? How do you guard a software flaw?

Other differences between Canada and the US (1)

dskoll (99328) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280843)

There are other significant difference between Canada and the US: In the US, you have to register to vote and the mechanisms vary from state to state. In Canada, almost everyone is registered automatically (data are taken from various sources such as motor vehicle registrations, income tax returns, etc.) And if you are not registered for some reason, you can register right at the polling station on voting day.

A second difference is that in Canada, federal elections are run by the federal Elections Canada department. This ensures that everyone uses the same technology to vote. In the USA, even federal elections are administered by the states, so people in different states may end up using vastly different voting technology (witness the 2000 election.)

I'm Canadian and I've hand counted votes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280877)

First, it's a tedious yet interesting process. Reps from each major party plus a couple of others are on hand as the ballot box is opened in Canada. Messed up votes ( and there are some dumb people out there ) get set aside and the count is done fairly quickly. Each party gets a call with the same numbers so they should have the exact same count as Elections Canada. It is transparent and both times I've done it, there were no shenanigans and I felt the process was proper. I felt good about participating.

Second, I sort of assumed it worked exactly the same in every other democracy in the world. If it's not open and transparent, then it's not really a democracy.

Hand count important for voter confidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#41280899)

For a democracy to succeed, not only must the voting process BE fair, it must also APPEAR to be fair. When everyone KNOWS that computers can get hacked, and when votes are counted by computers, the level of trust drops precipitously.

In Canada during the recount in Florida for George W, we wondered why the fuss about the recount procedure. (two people, one from each party, are shown a punched ballot and have to agree on what the vote was, rinse, repeat.) This is what we do for every election in every polling station--why would anyone do it differently? In Canada the folks manning the polling station are paid (usually retired folks looking for a few extra bucks), and the guy holding up the ballot is paid, but the folks watching and tallying are volunteers. Every candidate has the right to put a representative into every polling station to watch the count. These are called "scrutineers". They watch to see that votes are tallied correctly, and can keep their own running tally. If the tallies of everyone are wildly off, they do it again.

In a post related to this, the fellow wrote about it taking 14 hours. This is the exception. The polling stations are numerous enough that there are not typically thousands of votes. In a recent election many polling stations had their results in in a couple of hours, and enough had their votes in within 4 hours that the winner could be declared.

Occasionally we have a recount and the original ballots are taken out and we do it over again. (I think a recount is automatic if the difference is down to a few dozen.) When a recount is done, the counting is DONE. With such a transparent process we all have confidence in the system, and no one has any basis for dragging it out for weeks and weeks. And it is voter confidence in the system that is important in a democracy.

As far as cost, there are perhaps two dozen paid people at each polling station and with the number of poling stations we have it adds up to quite a bit to run an election. But I ould like to see a calculation of the percapita costs in the US. The cost to manage and procure voting machines must be immense. If I had to make a bar bet, I'd bet the Canadian system is less expensive, much more reliable, and actually trusted by the people.

Having just worked for the Director General (2)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 2 years ago | (#41280951)

I just did my stint for the Quebec elections, and there's plenty of room for error. The people that work at the tables are basically paid volunteers. People can apply for the job, get a phone call and go to a training session. The first problem is that there's no IQ test, and the second problem is the training itself is the usual extremely boring and overly-detailed yet useless bureaucratic affair.

Each voting "office" is basically a cafeteria table with 3 to 4 people sitting at it, and a voting booth with a privacy screen.

The jobs are:

1) The scrutineer that hands the ballot to the elector

2) The secretary that checks voter ID and addresses

3) The electoral clerk that simply compiles the voter ID by line number. He compiles the list hourly as the voters come in.

4) Optional, a representative from one of the parties to act as a monitor.

The voting is held in specially designated buildings like school gyms, church basements, whatever. There are obviously more than one of these tables per building, usually 10 tables to cover a decent area. The voter list has about 300-400 names, so each building can handle at least 3000 voters over the 10.5 hours they're open.

There are also a bunch of other people that monitor the overall proceedings and help voters as they come in.

It's pretty straightforward until you realize that at the amount of people they hire, there are different interpretations and personalities at work. At my table, the scrutineer was an idiot. I seriously thought she was retarded. The ballot is torn off a block of paper, folded three times and initialed by the scrutineer. The ballot is handed to the voter, he votes, folds it back, hands it to the scrutineer who is supposed to check that his initals are still there, tears off a stub and hands the ballot back to the voter who then puts it in the sealed box.

Easy, right? Nope, the scrutineer was unable to make a coherent sentence and the voters thought THEY had to put THEIR initials on the ballot. Of course not, the vote is secret, but people vote every few years, how do they know? The scrutineer also managed to tear off more than one ballot at a time.

I know we lost a few votes that way.

Anyways, the training would have been better if it were hands-on, since most of this stuff is motor memory stuff. Just sitting at a session two weeks before the real thing is not enough. There should also be a dry run before we let electors in.

The next problem is that the workers can't really leave the building for the duration of the voting. It was hot and stuffy in my building, and I got a headache. I used to work in warehouses in the summer unloading 18 wheelers and never got a headache.

I only stayed 11.5 hours, but the people opening the ballot boxes and counting them stay even longer.

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