City and independent officials tested the city’s voting machines on Friday morning as the nation gears up for the Nov. 6 presidential election.
“People need to have faith that the result of an election is fair,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was on hand to observe. “The basis of the whole election is the counting of the votes, and that they should be counted as cast.”
In addition to Singer, the political watchdog group The Committee of Seventy was on hand, as were campaign volunteers.
Typically both parties and both campaigns send volunteers. This year only the Obama campaign sent volunteers: Ellen Zeng and Edson Rafferty. The Romney campaign pulled out of Pennsylvania several weeks ago.
Zeng and Rafferty watch as the machines are explained and sample votes cast. In just a few seconds a technician pulls out the tape that records the votes to make sure they’ve been recorded accurately.
It is a process they repeat throughout the morning, stopping at randomly chosen voting machines.
The city maintains 3,700 voting machines, which are stored in a warehouse in the Northwest section of the city along Wissahickon Avenue. This week the warehouse hummed with activity as workers prepared to deploy the machines - a process that takes upwards of 10 days.
But, the process of readying the machines has taken months. It’s more than just preparing the machines – the ballots have to be drawn up, and then the proper ballot has to be placed in the correct machine.
“The level and quality of proofreading and detail checking is really astounding,” Singer said.
It’s a complex process with lots of checking and rechecking – it’s less arduous during a presidential election, because ballots throughout the city are largely the same. That is not always the case.
“The whole process takes months, and then you have to check each machine,” she said. “It’s a thorough logic and accuracy test.”
Obama’s volunteers took their task seriously
Rafferty came equipped with a September report from state Secretary of State Carol Aichele that details the series of tests state officials performed on a sample machine before they were certified by the state.
“There have been so many problems with voting machines over the years,” said Rafferty.
From Boston, he is an Obama campaign veteran and worked in Cleveland, Ohio during the 2008 campaign.
Aichele’s report notes past problems, for which Rafferty was particularly vigilant. They included things like making sure the machine properly registered a straight ticket vote and that the tapes were properly recording votes, including write-ins.
This week, Rafferty was particularly concerned about the number deployed at each polling place. There are 1,687 divisions in the city and 900 polling sites. The number of machine varies by site and is determined by the number of registered voters in each division. Aichele’s report notes that the machines used by the city can be expected to process about 350 votes a day.
An elections official told Rafferty that in some precincts that number was more like 900.
“That’s one of things I’m looking at,” he said.
As Rafferty and Zeng continued their inspection, workers started loading machines onto trucks.
“We need to get this show on the road,” Rafferty shouted.