So the big day has finally arrived. With registration card in hand you arrive at your designated polling place ready to execute your constitutional right. You cast your vote and breathe a sigh of relief: The wait to vote is finally over.
But have you really performed your civic duty? After leaving the polls, how can you be sure that your vote truly counts?
Controversy surrounding Florida’s 2000 presidential election has inspired many changes in the voting process, including updates for aging machines, tightened poll security, and early voting in 30 states. Polls in Florida opened Oct. 18, and residents can continue voting through today. This extended voting time, allowed by state law, helped election officials solve any glitches that should arise with the implementation of new touch-screen, electronic voting machines.
Electronic voting machines have been used in Philadelphia for the past three years, according to Fred Voigt, the executive director of Philadelphia’s Committee of Seventy, a nonprofit and nonpartisan political watchdog organization.
“They work great, they’re easy to use, and they’re accurate,” Voigt said.
Florida did not inspire Philadelphia to make the switch from lever to electronic machines. The plan was already in place long before the Florida dispute, according to Voigt. The Philadelphia machines were tested for any problems one week before the election, and according to Pennsylvania law, there is no need to allow early voting as seen in Florida and other states.
“There are some forms of early voting, we are not one of them. Our election laws are different than theirs,” Voigt said.
Critics oppose the electronic voting machines because they lack a paper trail, or written record of each specific vote cast at the machine. Voigt sees paper trails as further complications to the voting process.
“We never had a paper trail before, why should we have one now?” he said. “It’s real simple: Keep it simple, stupid. That’s the key to running an election. The more you complicate it with machinery, the more you screw it up.”
Others feel that electronic voting machines are susceptible to hacking and voting fraud. Voigt argues that because the machines do not have modems, they are safeguarded against hacking and other tampering.
“They’re not wired to anything. There’s a cartridge for each machine, the cartridge goes to a regional center where it’s transmitted over a T1 line,” he said.
“Last year, in November, we were voting for judges of the superior court among other things. There were 2.2 million votes cast, the difference between the winner and the loser was 32 [votes].”
The Electoral College system, established under Article II and the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, determines the results of the presidential election. Each state is awarded a certain number of votes, equal to the total number of the state’s number of representatives and senators determined by the 2000 census. To win the presidential election, a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538. Candidates gain electoral votes when they win a state’s popular vote. Critics argue that under the Electoral College system, a candidate can win the election with less popular votes than their candidate, but still have at least 270 Electoral College votes. Votes may be cast either at a polling place or through an absentee ballot.
After completion, absentee ballots are mailed to an individual’s appropriate district office, where they are counted on Election Day. Some Temple students strayed from the absentee ballot route, instead of choosing to vote at home come Election Day.
“I’m going home to vote. I only live 45 minutes away in Jersey so I’m just going to go home,” said Bobby St. Juste, a sophomore majoring in computer information systems. “I don’t really trust the whole absentee ballot thing, I’m not really a fan of it, I don’t know exactly how the process works… so I figured why not just cut the middleman out.”
Other students reregistered in Philadelphia, confident that their vote is secure.
“My grandmother used to actually run the polling places where I live, so I used to work at it with her every year,” said Christy Fisher, a freshmen pre-pharmacy major. “That one was always pretty safe [to vote at], so hopefully it’s the same here.”
According to the Committee of Seventy, voting in Philadelphia is safer than you think. Pennsylvania law orders a random post-election audit of 2 percent of voting machines in each jurisdiction. In Philadelphia, two machines in each city ward are chosen for inspection (8 percent of city voting machine) by printing paper audit tapes and then comparing these tapes with the official results for each machine. Provisions of the Pennsylvania Election Code also require bipartisan polling place election boards where possible. Jewell Williams, democratic leader of the 16th ward, explained that all polls must be balanced.
“On every polling place, every polling division, there is a Republican judge, or minority or majority inspector, one or the other. Every polling place has a representation of that party,” he said.
On Election Day, Williams sets up his polling place and then travels around the ward ensuring that all polls run smoothly for the day. If a problem arises, Williams notifies a judge of election that oversees the precinct of that particular ward.
The Committee of Seventy also responds to problems at the polling places. Issues vary from illegal picketing to the possession of partisanship paraphernalia inside the polling place to fraudulent voting. People sometimes mistakenly arrive at the wrong polling place, Williams said. When this occurs, the individual must be transported to a judge of elections to permit them to fill out a provisional handwritten ballot.
“Most of the committee people have cars, so if there’s a major problem they will drive that person to a court that’s opened just for election problems that people qualified to vote did not (vote),” Williams said.
Watchdogs on alert for voting procedure irregularities will also be in place at all polling places, according to Williams.
Voigt has faith that no vote will go uncounted today, including yours.
“We’re going to make sure this happens,” Voigt said.
Sammy Davis can be reached at S.Davis@temple.edu.