Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Do elections provide I.T. work?

This year, for the off-season 2007 election in norther Virginia (all races were local or state) I signed up for poll work as "tech." That means I would be the person to deal with the WinVote machines (from Advanced Voting Solutions) if any machine failed.

There was an additional 90 minute training session, that was mostly talk. The components of the processing have to do with the mechanics of voting, the various location and machine close and open reports printed on a cash-register like paper tape, the "USB" which is really a memory stick, the reboot procedures, and the physical setup, which has to do with standing them on pegs and properly connecting them. This is more of a mechanical and a programming job.

There was only one failure, late in the afternoon. Failures occur when a machine is not activated by a smart card or a vote won't register. They seem to happen if too much pressure was placed on the screen or if there are power supply stability problems in the building (despite the batteries). The instructions document the reboot procedures, which are similar to restarting a laptop from sleep -- but they took longer than documented, and the instructions didn't list all the steps. The machines do not lose any record of votes when they hang, and they produce an awake report.

Nevertheless, the possibility that this can happen argues for the idea that a detailed paper record ought to be kept of the individual votes.

It's hard to be really effective in this kind of work when one does it so infrequently. One needs to work steadily on some sort of contract with a county or city in order to be effective and dependable. As I documented on the Issues Blog last week, the day is very long.

Some media companies have election units in information technology and these units provide employment only during election seasons. That's kind of like a tax company providing employment only during the tax season. This was the case when I worked for NBC in the 1970s (although I was permanent and did not work for that unit).

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