Patterico's Pontifications


Voting with Invisible Ink in Chicago

Filed under: 2008 Election — DRJ @ 3:12 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Twenty voters in Chicago whose ink pens did not work were told their pens had invisible ink and their votes would count:

“Twenty voters at a Far North Side precinct who found their ink pens not working were told by election judges not to worry.

It’s invisible ink, officials said. The scanner will count it. But their votes weren’t recorded after all.

“Part of me was thinking it does sound stupid enough to be true,” said Amy Carlton, who had serious doubts but went ahead and voted anyway.”

It sounds like the schools are doing an excellent job getting people to think creatively. Now we need to reintroduce the notions of common sense and civics lessons.


30 Responses to “Voting with Invisible Ink in Chicago”

  1. Poll worker training is amazingly bad.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  2. Poll worker training? It is to laugh. This is straight-up fraud perpetrated under the “fools deserve to be fleeced” theory, and it worked.

    ras (fc54bb)

  3. Ras: in this case, perhaps. But i’ve spent the day talking to people who were told they couldn’t vote yesterday, and in every case it seems to be that the poll workers misunderstood the rules for giving nonpartisan people ballots, so i’m a bit predisposed to blaming it on poorly trained poll workers.

    (Disclaimer: I *was* a pollworker yesterday, so my reaction is a bit visceral).

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  4. Who runs the primaries in the US? Is it the state, or is it the party?

    ras (fc54bb)

  5. We have a fun one going on here in Los Angeles, DRJ. Shades of Florida in 2000: incompetent poll workers and people who are too dumb to mark their ballot correctly but still think they have a right to have their vote counted. Sheesh.

    JVW (b03dfa)

  6. I don’t believe this has a thing to do with negligent training of poll workers.

    Poll workers shouldn’t need to have it explained to them that it really isn’t a good idea to tell voters whose pens don’t work that its invivisible ink. There is a far more serious problem afoot than being poorly trained.

    Either the 20 duped voters were some of those suckers born every minute, or the ‘judging officials’ exemplify corruption in its most desperately stupid form.

    Dana (b4a26c)

  7. Ras: it depends on the state.

    JVW: I saw that. The ballot design is ludicrous; there’s no good reason for it.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  8. Well aphrael, just like in Palm Beach County it is local Democrats who are the Los Angeles County election poobahs, so this one might be hard to pin on the Bush Administration (not that they won’t try: “Our budgets have been severely cut because of the War in Iraq!”).

    And as the article I linked to states, Independents had ample notification as to how the ballot was to be configured and I am willing to bet the instructions were pretty explicit in saying that the party box had to be checked, so I am not going to shed any tears that their votes are not counted if that can’t take the time to follow instructions.

    JVW (b03dfa)

  9. It’s a pleasure to vote when you have helpful, knowledgeable poll workers but very few people make a living from being a poll worker and most of them are unpaid, quickly-trained volunteers. We could create a whole new cottage industry of permanent poll workers responsible for educating people on the intricacies of voting. Or we could publish voting instructions, make the instructions available at the polling places, and expect voters to follow the instructions. Those who don’t follow the instructions for any reason will hopefully learn from it and do better the next time.

    In other words, we can turn voting into brain surgery and treat voters like helpless patients OR we can treat voters like adults who manage to do all sorts of things by themselves, including voting. I vote for option 2.

    DRJ (517d26)

  10. JVW: I have no inclination to pin this on the Bush administration. They’re completely not responsible for the decision of local election boards.

    This was just a bad decision by the local board.

    As I understand it, the DTS-AIP ballot has only the DTS-AIP bubble, which must be filled out; while the DTS-DEM ballot has only the DTS-DEM bubble, which must be filled out. There’s no earthly reason why these couldn’t have been printed pre-filled out.

    Similarly, since these are optical scan ballots, there’s no reason the ballot couldn’t be coded differently in a machine-readable form (as the republican and democratic ballots already are).

    Do I have much sympathy for those who couldn’t figure out what they needed to do? No. But I don’t have much sympathy either for a county election department which chose to use a system that imposed an unnecessary burden on voters.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  11. When I was living in California, I spent a couple of years working as an election inspector ( a temp position for the election day ) for the county I lived in. It was amazing to me just how dumb the average poll worker was, and how poorly trained. My first year working, I got 3 hours of training the month before the election, and three promotions between then and the election day. I was supervising several election precincts on the first election I worked.

    It was also amazing to me how much brazen fraud is attempted. One Democratic operative showed up with a stack of ballots, filled out, claiming that they were absentee ballots from a nearby retirement home, expecting me to allow her to drop them in the ballot box.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  12. DRJ: we can also design systems which are simple and don’t require complicated instructions. I think that would be preferable to either of your options. :)

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  13. For the record, aphrael, I did not mean to imply that you personally would blame it on Bush. It’s just a matter of time before some local crazy does it, though.

    JVW (b03dfa)

  14. Aphrael,

    I agree but there will never be the perfect system. What seems perfectly obvious to one guy will confuse the next.

    DRJ (517d26)

  15. SPQR: I was the inspector for two precinct boards yesterday. One of them were a great joy to work with; while I started out handling all of the problems (people who weren’t in the book, people who wanted to switch parties at the last minute, people who never received their absentee), over the course of the day, they had the initiative and the intelligence to figure out how i was dealing with them and do the same thing.

    The other board was infuriating: they had no energy and no initiative, and they would have me deal with the simplest, most trivial of problems (hey! this voter asked for an absentee and never got it! what do we do?).

    No brazen fraud noticed, although there were a surprising number of people who claimed that the election office had improperly registered them and they really wanted to vote in $party primary instead of $other_party primary.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  16. DRJ: fair enough. In this case, though, what’s infuriating me is that there is no valid technical reason why the procedure is necessary. If *anyone* finds it confusing and it’s not needed for something, why not jettison it?

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  17. Well … I assume these things generally happen for a reason, however ill-conceived it may turn out to be. It may have started as a technical, cost, or timing concern — maybe the forms couldn’t be prepared sooner, cheaper or in the right format. Maybe the people who prepared the ballot spent so much time studying the issue that they failed to think through how it looked to someone who had never seen the forms before. Or it could have been an intentional effort to dissuade independent voters or voters tempted to switch parties.

    In general, though, I tend to go with the unintentional over the intentional. Who knows? Maybe this was the good version of the ballot. Maybe the earlier versions were really confusing.

    DRJ (517d26)

  18. I’ve long held that if you are too stupid to work something that was designed for the lowest common denominator, you really shouldn’t be voting anyways…

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  19. Corruption? Fraud? Lack of training?

    Seems like a practical joke perpetrated by some bored kids running a polling garage. I imagine there was a good laugh and high-fives going around when the voters bought it. Invisible ink!

    Malicious and unwise, sure. But I don’t think we need to look deeper than that.

    There’s no obvious motive to mess with random voters without knowing their preferences.

    wt (ca1cea)

  20. My point exactly, Scott (#18). The courts have already made clear that they will subject any sort of poll testing to close scrutiny because of the history of racial discrimination, so failure to follow directions and mark your ballot correctly should be considered enough to disqualify the vote.

    JVW (b03dfa)

  21. “Part of me was thinking it does sound stupid enough to be true,” said Amy Carlton, who had serious doubts but went ahead and voted anyway.”

    With apologies to James Taranto: The fact that the reporter didn’t say which party the duped voters were registered with can only mean one thing: Not Republican.

    L.N. Smithee (e1f2bf)

  22. Darn, it didn’t link. Google “Taranto” and “not Republican.” You’ll see what I mean.

    L.N. Smithee (e1f2bf)

  23. DRJ, I’m with you on the assuming things happen for a reason, on the presuming unintentional over the intentional, and on the (implied) possibility that people who have worked on a problem for a long time lose sight of how it will look to people haven’t. That’s why I’m not screaming “fraud” on this; I think it was more likely a mistake than a deliberate attempt by one machine to disenfranchise the other candidate’s voters.

    But in this case — speaking as a software engineer who is very familiar with the way election equipment works — I’ve been trying ever since I heard this yesterday morning to come up with a plausible sounding rationale for what this bubble could be *useful* for. Every theory i’ve been able to come up with i’ve immediately come up with a counter to.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  24. Then who benefited from keeping the ballot confusing or difficult?

    DRJ (517d26)

  25. Logically it would make sense to just give the Independent voters a Democrat ballot upon request and be done with it. In this case, it appears that they were given a Independent ballot, upon which they were to code the party (Democrats, American Independents, etc.) whose Presidential party they wanted to vote in.

    The only two reasons I can think of as to why it would have to be a specially marked Independent ballot are (1) the Democrats wanted to see what the respective break-downs were between voters registered in their party versus Independents, or (2) there were other down-ballot primaries that Independents were not invited to vote in. That would necessitate the separate Independent ballot with the bubble that needed to be marked Democrats.

    JVW (b03dfa)

  26. The poll worker got it wrong. The pens with invisible ink were only supposed to be used by the dead people who were voting. Remember this took place in Chicago.

    Richard (6254a9)

  27. JVW: sadly, it’s not as you described.

    If it were an independent ballot upon which they were to code the party, it would be reasonable.

    In this case, at least assuming the pictures at this link are accurate scans of the ballot, there were seperate independent, independent/dem, and independent/aip ballots, and the latter two had only one bubble which could possibly be filled in.

    aphrael (228ec7)

  28. So many otherwise secular and godless people have “deified” Obama as the “Black Messiah”, for no greater merit than being “articulate” and not speaking in “Ebonics” (something Rev. Jackson and other black luminaries have found offensive and a betrayal to black people), that I wonder if perhaps those inkless pens were expected to write “miraculously” on account of a “miracle” by Obama, the same way that Jesus walked on water (which of course Obama supporters firmly believe Obama can do…especially over the ankle deep waters of the Reflective Pool of the Lincoln Monument – appropriately enough).


    Althor (56a0a8)

  29. Aphrael, looking at the link I think that the necessity to mark the party at the top may be an artifact of the scanning technology. It may have been necessary to have a bubble to code at the top to indicate to the scanner which primary candidates appear on the remainder of the ballot. Not knowing the exact scanner make/model in use, I can’t confirm.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  30. SPQR — there’s something to that, but at the point that they were printing different ones for each party, they could have printed it pre-bubbled, which would have had the same technical effect without imposing a cost on the voter.

    aphrael (e75d40)

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