Thursday, November 06, 2008

Speed is not the issue

Hi Harvie,
what is the stated capacity of the Hart scanner in ballots per min? Even the ES&S will do >200 ballots / min (with stops for ballots that go to resolution committee. So 12,000 per hour. now that is high speed. With the Hart system they might as well do hand counting...... that's your point!! ??


The Hart system is simply software which attaches to a variety of COTS (off the shelf) scanners (which is a good idea by the way).
The speed of scanning at full speed depends on the scanner. The Kodak scanners used by Eagle and I am sure the ones used by Boulder are plenty fast. This isn’t the issue. If anything they are too fast and don’t reliably handle forms which have been on people’s living room tables…
scan problems are of the following nature:
  1. Part of ballot is folded under in the stack
  2. Ballot upside down (supposedly can be handled, and hart prints ballots with a curved corner to avoid this, but more memory is required)
  3. Ballot folds help drag the adjacent ballot into the scanner
  4. Ripped ballot gets caught on the next ballot or on the scanner
  5. Bar code on ballot is slightly damaged by a mark (this rejection seems to happen unnecessarily, considering that bar codes are very resilient)
  6. Foreign material build up on various components in the scanner

The scanner we are using Kodak i610 I think is about 1/sec- plenty fast if the software didn’t screw up in between scanning the batches. (I mean the frequent need to reboot systems, struggle with user interface, etc.)

Also the Hart system allows all scanning to be done before resolving… the ballot images are all stored (inaccessibly as far as I can tell in a big database) so scanning can be done independently of either resolving or of uploading votes to memory cards. This allows a lot of flexibility in use of the equipment.

I think the point is that voting system software can actually aid in hand counting ballots accurately! If you have a scanned image of a ballot you can show a particular contest magnified from one ballot to the next (Hart does this well) and flip through the ballots at 10/second If you want looking for an anomaly. This is an excellent service to those who would check ballots for voter intent. For example, the voting system could assemble all the ballots in which it interpreted the vote to be for McCain and the human operator could actually sequentially visit all those portions of the ballots very quickly to look for anomalies. Such a voting system does not exist today. The system could (Hart doesn’t really do this very well) keep a record of the human interpretation and in principle could then machine mark the vote interpretations in a harmless location on the ballot image or conceivably even on the paper ballot itself (in a different design of system) for later auditing.

I would say that it makes sense that the ballots are being examined one by one, as I think they are in Boulder, on the screen. It is true that very light marks, almost invisible to the naked eye are presented in full black on the image, and so certain stray marks and dust are emphasized on the electronic version of the visible image of the ballot. Certainly with a Hart like system you could do very good machine assisted hand counting (machine suggested human confirmed interpretation and machine tabulation) in the same amount of time that Boulder is spending with the ballots and get probably even better accuracy. With an improved design machine, you could do it much faster, and also do it in precincts.

If the press would stop bad mouthing the speed of producing results from Boulder, we would have a better chance to make a more sensible system in the future.

What happened in Florida with the Republicans and the press bad mouthing the punch cards is an example of what we do NOT want to do again.

All of the above discussion relates for the long term only to mail-in ballots or what happens if we go to all an all mail-in election.

At precinct polls we could hand count (or machine assist hand count) our ballots much sooner because of the larger number of people involved.

Harvie Branscomb

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