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Multnomah County Ballot Instructions Facilitate Fraud

The instructions printed on ballots in Multnomah County, Oregon lead many voters to fill out their ballots in a way that facilitates later vote-tampering.
The problem is that, as pictured, the instructions specifically mention it's OK to use a pencil to fill in the ovals.

Moreover, the ballots strongly resemble forms used for the standardized tests that schoolchildren take. Takers of those tests are explicitly instructed to use a #2 pencil. People have gotten so used to using #2 pencils for such test forms, that, in the absence of explicit instructions (and an educational advertising campaign) to the contrary, most voters are likely to use a #2 pencil out of habit.

That's a really bad idea, in my opinion. Sure, someone could simply "lose" ballots, or replace them with phony ones. But that requires more effort; one has to destroy the "lost" ballots and possibly procure new, blank ones as well. Encouraging as many voters as possible to use indelible ink won't prevent all fraud, but it is a simple step that makes fraud that much harder.

I would not be surprised if such electronically-scanned ballots in other counties and states contain similarly poor instructions.

address: address: Portland

Picture 31.Oct.2004 14:53


For some reason, the picture didn't make it. Here's another try at attaching it.

Multnomah County ballot instructions
Multnomah County ballot instructions

getting carried away 31.Oct.2004 15:43

lm entery

How does it facilitate fraud? Are you saying someone could erase the marks?
Not bloody likely. Think about the amount of effort needed to erase complete darkened ovals from any significant number of ballots. Too much work. Too hard to do in a way that wouldn't be obvious. Think about the last time you used an eraser to erase a completely darkened oval in pencil. Did it erase completely, without any obvious traces? Can you seriously imagine multiplying that effort by thousands? I think you're getting a little carried away.

I almost 31.Oct.2004 15:54


used a Pencil, too. Then I realized that I didn't want my votes "erased", even physically. I used black ink. Don't use blue ink. The ballots are optically scanned, which can sometimes miss even dark blue.

BTW, Multnomah uses ES&S optical scanners, which is owned by a Rebuplican Senator from Nebraska (who was "unexpectedly elected" by his own machines before revealing he owned the company)

Details on Nebraska Election 31.Oct.2004 15:57


There is the case of Nebraska and a company called Election Systems and Software (ES&S). A gentleman named Chuck Hagel was chairman of ES&S until 1995 when he left the company to run for the Senate. Coincidentally, ES&S was selected to provide the electronic voting machines for the 1996 Nebraska election. In both the primary and general elections, Hagel came from behind to win. In the general election he trailed the popular Democratic former governor 65 percent to 18 percent in the polls at one time, but finished with 56 percent of the vote. ES&S machines counted 85 percent of the votes in that election (the rest were by hand).

not carried away 31.Oct.2004 15:59


Yes, I'm saying someone could erase the marks.

It wouldn't take "thousands" of ballots in a close enough race. Remember Florida in 2000? Less than 1.000 votes difference.

Who cares if there would be traces of the old vote left? All that matters is it be erased well enough that the fraudulent vote, not the original one, gets counted. So what if the ballot looks like it was erased? Just say the voter did it. Plausible deniability.

And it's easy to thoroughly (or nearly thoroughly) erase the pencil mark without damaging the ballot. Those cheapo "Pink Pearl" erasers can't do it, but a better-quality drafting eraser (available at any stationer's) can.

Why make it easy for them when it's so simple to close this security hole?

Before or after? 31.Oct.2004 22:15

Bison Boy

If you're concerned about the ballot being changed before the count, I wouldn't worry about it. The secrecy envelope and counting processes would make this implausibly difficult to do in significant numbers.

As for a later recount... yeah, I guess that could happen. Again, though, I suspect ballot control after the election s still pretty tight. And changing penciled votes would be pretty laborious. It'd be hard to manipulate a significant number of votes. If the election were within a hundred votes or so I could see it being possible, but just barely.

I wouldn't worry about this much. If you *are* worried about it, go observe the count in your county elections office. Might be too late to sign up, but it never hurts to ask.