12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Technical Term: Human Error

A video was featured here on the HuffPo front page this week, produced
by my group, Video the Vote. It showed a county clerk in West
Virginia demonstrating the reliability of his county's ES&S machines
when they are properly calibrated, versus out of calibration in
response to complaints from early voters that they saw their vote flip
from Democrat to Republican.

This helpful official gladly took our camera through the process of
what voting machine calibration looks like. (Think of a Palm Pilot or
an iPhone, you tap the screen in certain places so it gets its
bearings.) After showing how alarmingly off the votes will register
without proper calibration, the county clerk rebooted the ES&S voting
machine, re-calibrated it, and showed the difference in the
reliability of the touch screen.

In voting for Ralph Nader, then selecting the straight Republican
ticket afterward, he noticed Ralph Nader was still selected as his
choice for president. He immediately said the machine was still out
of calibration, moments after assuring us that it was calibrated
properly. Note, the Nader vote should have stayed as it did. This
county clerk was mistaken.

Out of our recent series of reports on voter rights (Video the Vote) in
different states, the traffic for this video suddenly skyrocketed.
The Attorney General's office and the Secretary of State of West
Virginia called us up, threatening legal action for misrepresenting
their machines. There were edits in that video, and it didn't show
the full process. The machine was right; the county clerk had been

We got calls from the Associated Press, Computerworld, Wired, all
wanting to know the context of the vote flipping. Was Video the Vote
sensationalizing this clip? While people had believed that these
machines might be deliberately switching their votes, this just turned
out to be a video of simple human error.

Exactly. Human error. What these tech experts and election officials
are too close to see is that human fallibility is just one of the
reasons that electronic voting machines are a disastrous idea.
Besides the widely documented security flaws, besides the tendency to
break down and cause lines, besides the outrages costs of our tax
dollars, there is the also the fact that the average poll worker age
is 72, and may not be up to speed on DOS.

Which is the even bigger problem with these electronic voting
machines. An overwhelmed poll worker, this county clerk, even the
Secretary of State of West Virginia can't even look inside these
voting machines. They're protected by trade secrets, the software is
confidential, and the private company of ES&S are the only ones who
knows for sure what goes into their machines. If any other industry
suggested that to banks, casinos, stock traders, they would be laughed
out of their sales meeting.

I for one do not blame the county clerk forced to defend and
recalibrate this computer system. If he had paper ballots, which
anyone can see and don't disappear when you unplug them, he wouldn't
be explaining the circumstances where people see their votes register
differently than they intended.

What I fear people debating this video are missing is in many of the
thousand or so comments on this video. Reactions like: "Why should
this even have to be calibrated? Why can't I vote on something more
reliable after all the daily technology we use like ATMs?"

Look, I'm not a tech guru. I am just some dude. I was fed up with
not trusting our political process, so I went out with a camera
through Ohio to find out if our elections are subverted. (You can see
the documentary Free For All! online for free at
In the course of my journey, I joined with other activists and
filmmakers to launch Video the Vote in 2006 to capture election
problems at the polls and report them immediately.

Each of our reports leading up to the 2008 election have sought to
empower the voter through awareness, such as checking their
registration, voting early, and in this case, checking your touch
screen results before you walk away from the machine.

I encourage all of you to join us at and become a
part of the citizen oversight of our elections. Help everyone get the
story straight.