Welcome to our online chat with Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew about new election equipment, procedures.
The chat took place on Thursday, December 1, at 2:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Hello and thanks for joining us this afternoon in another Newsmaker Chat.
I'm Dave Toplikar, World Online editor, and I'll be moderating today.
Today's chat features Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, who has been in the news this week concerning next year's election plans for Douglas County.
Jamie, welcome to our News Center.
Can you get us started by telling us the latest that's going on with new election equipment and procedures.
Jamie Shew: Thanks for giving me this opportunity to chat today. I look forward to the questions.
Last night, the Commission approved my recommendation of purchasing precinct scanners for every precinct and an ADA compliant AutoMark machine for every precinct. This system will allow us to be in compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, yet still maintain the integrity of a paper ballot. According to federal law, this system must be in place by the August 2006 primary.
Aline Hoey, League of Women Voters Lawrence-Douglas County: Please comment on the training of poll workers that will take place before using the new equipment.
Jamie Shew: Thank you Aline for an excellent question. Training will be extremely important for the poll workers. I refer to those individuals who work the polls as the unsung heros and heroines of the elections process. I will do everything, I can to ensure that they have the best training and support possible.
We anticipate getting the machines by May of 2006. Starting at that point, we will begin training the poll workers with extensive training. This will give us a few months to get familiar with the machines. There will also be opportunities for poll workers to come into our office and spend time working with the machines. On Election Day, I plan on having "experts" that will be available to assist with anything that may occur with the machines and assist the poll workers. The vendor that we chose also has training manuals, training support and training videos to help support these processes.
Michael, Lawrence: What guarantees do we have that the new system won't be used in a corrupt fashion?
Moderator: While Jamie is responding to this question, I'd like to remind our readers that they can post questions during this chat. The transcript will be left up after the chat ends.
Jamie Shew: Michael that is an extremely important question that has been on my mind for a long time. I wanted to choose a system for Douglas County that has the best back-up possible and that is possible with a paper based system.
Testing and security processes will be extremely important. We will conduct extensive testing prior to the election to ensure that the machines are reading the ballots properly. We will have security procedures that ensure that the chips are secured at all times. We will do post-election day testing to ensure that the machines are still reading the ballots correctly. The great thing about the paper based system is if we discover a problem or glitch, we will have the paper ballots to do a recount if necessary. By having the paper ballots we will be able to audit the numbers being processed and look for any discrepancies.
Dawn P., Lawrence: Will the new system do anything to resolve how long it takes to tally votes? It seems like before you became County Clerk, it was often late into the night before results were available.
Jamie Shew: Thank you for that question Dawn.
This system will definitely speed up the election night process. One of my goals was increase the efficiency of the election night process and this will help us in that process.
We will no longer be counting the ballots at the courthouse, they will be tabulated throughout the day in the precinct scanners. Douglas County has over 75,000 voters and we had just outgrown our system. Basically on election night we will be downloading the data and auditing the results, this will be a much quicker process (though not as suspenseful). Shawnee County uses this system now and they usually report by 9 p.m. and they have twice the number of voters than Douglas County.
Another exciting part of this system is that we will be able upload the results straight to the web and provide realtime results for anyone with access to the computer.
Keith/Lawrence: The paper today said "The voters will be alerted if they have mismarked their ballot in some way and will be able to correct it." Could you give a little more detail on how voters will notified so that corrections could be made. Is there any concern of double counting these votes?
Jamie Shew: Keith, excellent question.
If the ballot has been mismarked. Say, you vote for 3 people when the race is only "vote for 2 or fewer". Our current system would not catch that error and on election night we would have to not count that race, since we could not figure out the intent of the voter.
When you put your ballot in the precinct scanner, it will notify you on a screen if a race has been mismarked. The voter has the option at that point to continue with the process and that race will not be counted or they can have the ballot returned to them and they can cast a new ballot. The machine will not tabulate the ballot until the ballot is either correct or the voter indicates a desire to continue the process.
There is very little concern for double counting because of the safe guards and the auditing functions of the machine.
Merrill: Can the counting devices be programmed to alter a ballot? By that I mean can a voter choose Jamie yet the vote goes to Merrill.
Can any electronic voting device be secured in order that fraud does not take place?
Yes I can still live with paper and pencil.
Jamie Shew: Merrill, thank you for your question. That is one of the biggest concerns regarding the introduction of technology into these processes. The precinct scanners are doing the same function as the central scan right now and use the same chip technology. As I stated previously, the most important safeguards are having a firm security and testing plan in place.
Prior to the election, we create ballots and run them through the machines to test that they are reading the same tallies as our handcount. This test is open to the public and is always published in the newspaper, so anyone can come watch the test. After the election we do the same process to look for anything that is out of whack. So if the the chip had been tampered in the way you suggest it would show up in the test. As I mentioned, these tests are open for public viewing. The last part is that we make sure that the chips and the machines are secured at all times and access to them are limited up to and including election day. Plus, by having a paper-based system we can always double check and audit the results.
Thanks for that very important question, you have my assurance that I will do everything possible to put systems in place that protect the democratic process in Douglas County.
Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Shew, how will we, the voters know that these new scanners will correctly reflect our choices at the polls? Thank you.
Jamie Shew: Ryan thanks for the question.
Most of the answer can be found in my previous answer. As I mentioned the testing is open to the public, we will conduct pre-testing and post-testing, plus we have the paper ballots as back up for auditing purposes.
Moderator: Jamie, how many other Kansas counties use this system or similar electronic systems? Are you working with the Kansas Secretary of State's office on this or does each county go its own way?
Jamie Shew: Every Kansas county, and actually every county in the U.S., has to make these changes. The Kansas Secretary of State facilitated the process in choosing the approved vendors and machines. There were options available to each county and it was up to each County Clerk to choose the system they felt best fit the needs of their county. I am thankful that we had the opportunity to do this as some states did not offer counties the ability to choose. This is why I spent the past month holding "conversations" with the citizens and trying to get feedback from the citizens of Douglas County. I really wanted to have your input before making the recommendation.
The majority of the citizens supported my feelings that a paper-based system was important. I know that I have had extensive conversations with other county clerks and I do not know how many will end up with precinct scanners. Currently, I would guess about 25 percent of the counties use precinct scanners including Shawnee and Jefferson counties. When I was working on this decision I spent some time talking to those county clerks and discussing the pros and cons of their systems, just like I did with counties that use touchscreen voting equipment.
Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Shew, are there any back-up plans in place if the new machinery breaks down?
Jamie Shew: Thank you for your excellent question, Ryan. One of the main reasons that I supported a paper-based system was because we will always have a paper back-up for the election. So, if something happened to a machine we can always run the paper ballots through another machine or go to the good old-fashioned handcount. We will be purchasing enough machines to have backups in case of equipment failure.
Moderator: That will be all of our questions today. I'd like to thank Jamie for taking time out of his day to come to our offices and partake in this online forum.
Our next Newsmaker Chat will with Kansas University Provost David Shulenburger, which will be at 2:30 p.m. next Thursday.
Jamie Shew: Thank you so much for all of the questions and this opportunity to speak with everyone this afternoon. Voting is one of the most fundamental and important rights we hold as citizens and it is important that my actions ensure the safety, security and confidence of your vote. Thank you for being interested in these changes and always feel free to contact me with any further questions, comments or concerns.