Mail-In Ballots: Completed With a Number Two Pencil. And It’s A Problem.

Last week, Anchor Rising spoke to two people at the RI Board of Elections with regard to the requirement that mail-in ballots be completed with a pencil, not a pen.
Gregg McBurney, Program and Planning Specialist for the RI BOE, advised that mail-in ballots must be completed with a number two pencil because the BOE employs an optical scan reader, similar to that used for standardized tests, which tabulates the votes on the ballots by “seeing” the lead marks.
Additionally, Mr. McBurney pointed out that, if the voter makes a mistake in filling out the ballot and accidentally does not vote for his preferred candidate, the ballot does, in fact, contain the instruction that the voter must contact the BOE to arrange for a replacement ballot. Mr. McBurney stated that, if the voter merely erases his erroneous vote and then correctly marks the ballot for his candidate, there is a danger that the scanner will read this as an overvote (i.e., a vote for more than one candidate in the race) and the ballot would not be tabulated but would be kicked out for manual review.
However, in a separate conversation, BOE Executive Director Robert Kando confirmed that it is possible to erase an erroneous vote sufficiently so that the scanner would not see that mark and not kick it out as an overvote.
Now, let’s go back to that video released by the ProJo a week ago Saturday. On it, we see a man offering to sell to a Gemma campaign operative mail-in ballots made out for Anthony Gemma and stating that he had (allegedly) done so in a prior election for the Cicilline campaign.
Many of the ballots purportedly came from senior high rises. We have yet to learn whether these were legitimate ballots cast by real voters. If they were, we have to wonder, minimally, how Mr. Ramirez was so sure that the votes on those ballots were cast for “his” candidate … and how he was able to confirm this to his “client”, the campaign for which those votes were cast. Mail-in ballots are supposed to be completed and then promptly sealed in an envelope to be mailed to the Secretary of State’s office. Were all of the ballots that Mr. Ramirez handed to the Gemma operative NOT actually sealed into envelopes upon completion?
Think of how easy it would be for a “runner” to either get the voter not to seal the envelope or to place the ballot in a new envelope that he had printed … after he had spent a minute “correcting” the ballot with an eraser and his own number two pencil.
In a post last week, I was, of course, joking when I tweaked the Gemma campaign for seeming to be unaware of technology – the mimeograph machine – from forty plus years ago. It is now clear that the technology of almost the same vintage currently utilized by the Rhode Island Board of Elections to tabulate votes is not at all a joking matter.
An upgrade to the state’s mail-in ballot technology is overdue. It doesn’t have to be a huge upgrade; just from a scanner that reads pencil marks to a scanner that reads pen marks.
Rhode Island’s election system is vulnerable to monkey business on several fronts. It time to close off those “opportunities”. Voter i.d. was a critical first step. An erasable ballot that is not immediately fed into a vote tabulator is the next order of business.

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9 years ago

I don’t understand why the requirement on mail-in is a pencil but when we go to the polls, there is some sort of black marker there for us to use.

Phil Hirons, Jr.
Phil Hirons, Jr.
9 years ago

I don’t think the mail balots are the same as the ones at the polling place nor are they read by the same machines.

9 years ago

“It doesn’t have to be a huge upgrade; just from a scanner that reads pencil marks to a scanner that reads pen marks.”
And with it a whole host of problems, not necessarily apparent to the nontechnical. What you mean to say is to a scanner that only reads pen marks. Do tell… How is it your optical scanning machine is going to tell pen marks from #2 pencil marks?
Also how about legitimate ballots showing a correction or ones not able to be read by the scanner? You’re going to invalidate all those too? What could possibly go wrong?

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