Liberty Voting Review From Troy School Election

Report by Schenectady County Commissioner of Elections Brian Quail


Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Three Schenectady County Board of Elections representatives, including myself, were graciously permitted to watch the opening of a Liberty Machine at one of the Troy City School District’s poll sites yesterday.  We asked for this opportunity because we wanted to see poll workers in action with a DRE in a real election environment.  It was an eye-opening experience.  I will recount the good, bad and ugly.  In reverse order, of course.


I.The Bad and Ugly


At our poll site voting started a full thirty minutes after the time specified.  And only one of two machines was available at that point.  The delay happened even though there were two company representatives on hand essentially doing the set-up under the gaze of six star-crossed election clerks.   The company reps said a half hour was too short a period in which to open the polls – an hour was needed.   But even an hour after the set-up effort began only one of two machines was operational.  The other was still in its suitcase.


The set up included poll workers placing the machine on a table, opening the machine case (after checking and breaking the seal), opening a separate suitcase with a power supply and cords, inserting and feeding the paper roll, inserting the VVPAT catch basin (including installing two seals), and checking three other seals on machine compartments holding the flash drive, printer, etc.  Ironically, putting together the curtain was the most difficult maneuver.  Neither company representative could figure out how to deploy the curtain because the design had recently changed, we were told.  Fortunately the school maintenance guy was able, with some fuss, to install the curtain.  At this point a poll worker printed out zero reports and did various other steps to activate voting.  This entailed some anxiety and missteps also, but ultimately the machine was turned on.  With eighteen voters on line, and other voters having already opted for emergency ballots, the moment the machine indicated it was ready for voters brought a wave of relief.  The poll workers were incredibly on edge – one commenting to me at the height of the chaos “please pray for us”.


Contrary to the Times Union report, not one poll worker at this site showed up late.  They were early.  All of the set-up problems involved difficulty moving through the process.  None of the problems related to tardiness.


II.The Good


Voters (including several older folks) had no apparent difficulty using the Liberty machine.  Once the machine was set up and turned on poll workers under their own direction were able to easily press the “entrance button” and move voters along quickly.  Notably the first few voters complained that it was hard to get the machine to accept their vote choices (i.e. “I had to keep pressing the button because nothing was happening”).  I think this occurred because poll workers were a bit slow, at first, in pressing the “entrance button” which resets the device between voters.  In general, voters seemed comfortable with the machine.


 III. A Lesson


Setting up the Liberty is more complicated than setting up the AVM.  (In fairness the Liberty is probably no harder to set up than any of the other new machines, but we haven’t had a chance to see the other apparati being used in a real-world scenario yet.) There are simply more steps to follow which involve “putting things together” and plugging things in.  It will be crucial to have trained people present to help poll workers set the machines up on election morning (regardless of prior training), and the process should begin a full hour before polls open.


 IV.Troy School District and League of Women Voters


In an interesting twist of events, even though the Schenectady County delegation was given access to a poll site to watch the opening process unfold, the LWV was forbidden from poll site access.  The Superintendent of Schools took to the television cameras to say “the league of women voters wants to disrupt this election”.  Many criticisms have been leveled at the LWV, but “disruptive” is not a word often used to describe these folks. We should encourage more transparency in election administration and thus more confidence in the results.  To the extent the school district exercised discretion, I think it erred in keeping the LWV at arm’s length.  Of course I am mindful that if the LWV attempted to do the same observation in an election under the jurisdiction of the BOE, we would be required to exclude them from poll sites unless they produced poll watcher credentials in proper form.  I think this is an area where the law needs to evolve to reflect common sense. 


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