Providence begins election day preparations

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The 2008 General Election saw 475,428 Rhode Islanders cast their vote, giving the state a 67 percent voter turnout, its highest since the 1988 presidential election. Providence voters accounted for 55,977 of those ballots. With less than six days until the election, the Providence Board of Canvassers and the Rhode Island Board of Elections are preparing for the third state-wide election in 2012.

The voter identification law the state began enforcing this year – which requires some form of photo or non-photo identification – is the only major change in procedure since the 2008 general election, said Kathy Placencia, administrator of elections for the Providence Board of Canvassers.

In accordance with state law, Providence uses Eagle voting machines to scan and tabulate paper ballots, Placencia said. The machine electronically stores the information in a device called a memory pack, and it is printed out to be posted for the public, she said.

Each precinct delivers its memory pack to city or town halls, where they are read by a computer provided by the Board of Elections before being sent electronically to the state Board of Elections, said Miguel Nunez, planning specialist for the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

One Eagle machine is located at each of Providence’s 78 voting precincts, Placencia said. If a machine malfunctions, a team of technicians is dispatched by the Board of Elections to repair it, and unread ballots are kept in an emergency compartment of the machine, she added.  

Placencia could not give a timeframe for machine repairs, but said they would not disrupt voting.

“Even if the voting machine was down for whatever reason, voters would not be turned away,” she said.

Machines do not read ballots if they are malfunctioning, she said, so there is no chance they will misread ballots.

According to “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness,” a report by Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers School of Law – Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic and Common Cause Education Fund, an independent random comparison of paper ballots to electronic results is the best way to ensure the accuracy of election-day results. The report grades Rhode Island’s auditing as “inadequate”  because of its lack of post-election vote-auditing.

Rhode Island checks voting machines the day before elections for “logic and accuracy” using test ballots, Nunez said. It is against Rhode Island law for polling officials to access processed ballots during Election Day, he added, preventing day-of audits.

The required printouts of results at the close of polling “ensures that there was no tampering while in transit,” Nunez said.

Each polling place is run by trained officials who are selected by the chairmen of each ward, Placencia said.

Party officials have the opportunity to select poll workers until 45 days before each election – at that point, precincts fill the remaining spots, Nunez said. The only requirements for polling officials are that they be eligible voters, not serving a sentence for a felony conviction and literate and fluent in English.

Rhode Island began requiring voters to provide some form of acceptable identification this year in order to receive their ballots. By 2014, only photo identification will be accepted.

With regards to voting mishaps, “the problem is that you usually don’t know about problems until the election occurs,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union.

The RI ACLU received complaints during the previous two state-wide elections this year, when the new voter ID law was first implemented, Brown said. Voters received incorrect information about acceptable forms of identifications, being told in some instances that only photo IDs were acceptable, Brown added. No legal action was taken.

Placencia and Nunez said neither of their election offices received complaints about this year’s state-wide elections.

“We feel that we adequately cover what is and is not proper identification with (polling officials),” Nunez said. Polling officials are instructed to place posters listing proper identification in the polling places, and in addition to the training they receive, officials have instruction manuals with them, he added.

Brown said he “(has) no doubt that there will be some issues that arise” during the general elections due to voter ID laws, given the greater voter turnout.

Earlier this month, Carlos Tobon, then a candidate for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, petitioned for a manual recount after losing by one vote to Rep. William San Bento, Jr., D-Pawtucket. The Rhode Island Supreme Court denied his request.

According to Nunez, a request for a recount must be submitted by 4 p.m. the business day following a primary election and within seven business days of a general election. If the race is closer than 2 percent, ballots will be re-read by the Eagle machine to ensure accuracy, but Rhode Island law prohibits a physical recount. With results greater than a 2 percent difference, memory packs are re-read to determine election outcome, he said.


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