The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board voted Monday to postpone a decision on implementing controversial new electronic voting equipment to a later date, citing possible confusion for voters as the reason for its decision.
According to Reid Magney, spokesperson for the GAB, the board made a 4-2 decision to delay action because of the problems associated with “overvoting,” in which voters unwillingly cast their votes for more than one candidate — and the method by which the machines notify the voter of the mistake.
At the GAB meeting, Paul Malischke, spokesperson for Fair Elections Wisconsin, told the board the electronic voting machines do not adequately notify voters when they have placed a vote for more than one candidate.
Malischke said the machine simply displays a message saying the voter has selected too many options in one race, giving him or her the option to either “accept,” which counts the ballot and voids the overvoted race, or “return,” which returns the ballot to the voter.
He said this has the potential to confuse voters and make them lose their votes without realizing the mistake.
“We all want our ballots to be accepted; in this case, it means you’ve lost your vote,” Malischke told the GAB.
Steven Pearson, vice president of Electronic Systems & Software, which manufactures the electronic voting machines, said these voting machines have improved from previous systems. He added it is more efficient to give the voter the choice to either accept or decline the overvote.
Pearson added ESS’ voting machines have received intense scrutiny and have proven to be successful in other states. He said ESS plans on being involved with the community during further tests of the product.
Malischke said the voting equipment to be introduced next year will not have the same problems seen this year, adding the new voting equipment will likely be implemented in 2011 because it is not normal to bring in new equipment in the same year as an election. He added he expects voting machines will continue to get better.
“Overvoting is equivalent to polio in the medical world,” Malischke said. “It can be eradicated and it can be prevented.”
Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, said he is optimistic about electronic voting technology in the future. He said it is important to continue to experiment with the technology until a more streamlined method arises.
“The potential is there that, in the future if handled correctly, electronic voting may be the safest and most certain way we protect our vote,” Smith said. “I do understand there are concerns and I don’t think we have perfected it yet.”
Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, said the electronic voting machines are beneficial to Wisconsin because they leave both an electronic trail and a paper trail of elections, but said the GAB has become inefficient and inconsistent in their decision-making.
“The bigger problem here is the [GAB] itself,” Lasee said. “They’re making … more of a mess than they’re trying to fix.”