February 19, 2018

Voting Machines are Silent in Princeton Today

In my recent report on the Sequoia AVC Advantage DRE voting machine, I explained (in Section 32) that the AVC Advantage makes a chirping sound when the pollworker activates the machine to accept a vote, and makes the sound again when the voter presses the CAST VOTE button. In important purpose of this sound is to alert all witnesses in the room that a vote is being cast. This makes it harder for people to cast extra votes on the machine. This idea goes back a hundred years: equip the voting machine (or even a simple ballot box) with a bell that rings every time a ballot is cast. In my report I wrote that the AVC Advantage’s chirping sound is not as loud as it should be.

This morning when I voted in Princeton, New Jersey, the chirping sound was not heard at all. When the AVC Advantage machines were activated to vote, and when the voters pressed the CAST VOTE button, there was no sound at all. Configuring the machines in this way is not a good idea. It makes the voters more uncertain about whether their vote was cast, and it makes it easier to inadvertently or deliberately cast extra votes.

UPDATE: Other machines in Princeton are making sounds. Also, some voters who used these very same machines report hearing sounds. So at this point I don’t believe that it’s a county-wide configuration issue. It may be a local, temporary malfunction of the little speaker in the operator panel, or it may be something else.

Repeated voting, though made easier by the absence of a sound, would still require collusion with the pollworker standing outside the voting machine. Such collusion does not require criminal intent. It may take the form,
Voter: I’m not sure my vote registered.
Pollworker: OK, I’ll activate the machine again just to make sure.
This scenario is not as far-fetched as you might think.

UPDATE 2: Another voter reports that when she voted later in the day at a different location in Princeton, she listened carefully (when pressing the CAST VOTE button) for the sound, but did not hear it. In both my case and hers, the CAST VOTE button was lit before we pressed it, so presumably our votes did count, if the manufacturer’s standard firmware was installed in the AVC Advantage.

Comments

  1. Are you sure your vote *was* counted?

  2. Carol Hutchins says:

    As I rode into work this morning, Brian Lehrer’s radio show was using the sounds of old style lever voting machines (used in NYC) to give audio color to his broadcast. There are good reasons for systems to produce sounds.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Are you saying that you can cast extra votes simply by pressing the button multiple times?! And the only thing stopping you is if someone is listening to the chirp??

  4. Electronic sounds are cheap, so when this gets fixed it shouldn’t be a chirp. It should be something distinctive (bell, gong, “Vote recorded”…) and something that won’t drive nearby people crazy. A random chirp almost always makes me think that something is malfunctioning or that someone doesn’t have a lot of imagination about their phone.

  5. This is something I wouldn’t have thought of, but these little things are important. I suggest morse code “R” for ready and “V” for vote cast. They won’t be confused with cellphone noises, and are very obvious without being annoying.

    • Bryan Feir says:

      As for ‘They won’t be confused with cellphone noises’, given that I’ve heard cell phones do … __ … (which is SMS) for text messages before, I wouldn’t be so sure that other morse code letters won’t be confused for this.

      Then again, I’ve actually been trained in morse code, so what do I know.

      …_ ._ …__ __. _… .._.

      • I guess with a lot of machines, it could be easy for some to hear a “v” instead of an “s” and half a “m.” The orange / green light idea is good too.

        – – – – – – . – – . …
        – . – – . . . . – – – – . – – – . . . . . . .

        • The spaces collapsed, I’ll try that again.

          – – – / – – – / . – – . / . . .
          – . – / – . . . / . – – – – / . – – – / . . . . / . . .

  6. I don’t know how close these machines are normally sited to each other, but if they’re nearby then I don’t think a chirp is particularly helpful anyway, since you (or the poll worker) could get easily confused by noises from the machine next to the one you’re actually going to be using.

    Use big lights (visible to both voter and poll worker; possibly two separate sets of lights) instead: orange for “ready to vote”, green for “vote accepted”. The voter just needs to look for the lights when they approach the machine; if anything other than the orange light alone is visible (eg. green light, no lights) then the machine isn’t ready yet.

  7. Obama didn’t steal the election, and I don’t like the implication of this post.

  8. David Guaraglia says:

    This is *so* suspicious. It’s hard to believe the same guys that produce the ATMs millions (billions even?) of people use every single day in all countries around the world aren’t able to come up with a sturdy and user friendly polling station.

    While in Brazil they achieved the same using open source and not-so-high tech, the US is still struggling with these crappy machines and people is still getting their votes ignored or worse.

  9. Advantage makes a chirping sound when the pollworker activates the machine to accept a vote, and makes the sound again when the voter presses the CAST VOTE button.

    Well in our country we dont have voting machines. We only use envelopes its kinda funny and old stylish.

    Tom from caravan awning sale