I attended the hand-eye recount of two precincts at the Buncombe County Board of Elections on Nov. 26, in order to observe the process. I continue to be amazed at the wonderful imagination of the folks in Buncombe County, especially the ones who do not read, nor listen to, the instructions to fill in the little ovals. As I have said before, having observed several canvasses and run-offs, it is hard to imagine the number of different ways voters can mess up a paper ballot!
All things considered, we in Buncombe County probably made the right choice in our new voting machines. Paper ballots keep the citizens happy, for they know for whom they have voted. But in fact, marking the paper ballot is only the first step in the process. Once marked, the paper ballot is fed into a scanning machine with a built-in computer that tries to read the filled-in ovals to determine the votes. When the voter has filled in the ovals carefully, the scanner has no trouble reading the ballot. When the voter has marked the ovals with check marks or “X” marks or any other marks that do not fill the oval, the computer in the scanner does the best it can to read the intent of the voter. Thus it does not surprise me that when one compares the Election Day tally with the machine-recount results with the hand-eye recounts, there is some very small variation in the numbers of votes for each candidate.
I was reminded on Nov. 26 that the elections officials may not—repeat, not—make any marks on a paper ballot, no matter how poorly it is marked by the voter. They may not take out a Sharpie and darken the ovals that contain checks or “X” marks or whatever.
So, dear voter, next Election Day please remember: You are not only indicating your vote in a manner that you, and perhaps later a member of the Board of Elections, can read. Your job on Election Day is to make the marking so correct that a scanner, any one of the scanners, can read your intent accurately every time. Each and every vote does count, and your job is to make your choices perfectly clear to a machine as well as the human eye.
— George E. Keller