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Machines Ready to Take Your Vote, Leave No Trail

Sept. 2, 2004 – Voting machines to be used in the Sept. 11 primary elections were tested in the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts Tuesday. Though the testing was open to the public and the media, no notice was given that an actual demonstration by Election System consultants would be given on St. Croix only.
Hulbert Lewis, a technician for P and P Communications, the Election System's consultant, was getting the voting machines up to speed at the St. Thomas elections office Tuesday morning. He said it would take about four days to complete the project. A Department of Property and Procurement driver will ultimately take the machines to their individual locations when the inspection is completed, and all the machines are sealed.
According to V. I. law, the machines must be tested 10 days prior to elections.
Lewis tests to make sure the mechanical elements of the machines are functioning properly. Printer, lights and power supply present the main problems he encounters. He demonstrated by putting a large white voter ballot on one of the machines, showing the red lights, which indicate the candidate choices. "Each of those lights must be working," he said.
He opened the back of the machine to show where the white, numbered plastic seals are attached after the inspection is complete. "If the seal is broken, the machine cannot be used," he said. The seals are checked before they are given to the drivers for transport to the polling places.
Lewis displayed a printer tape which each machine spits out after all votes are entered, along with the all-important black cartridge in which the information is stored, which must match the tape. "The tape doesn't record each individual voter," he said, "but it indicates how many votes for each candidate."
This is one of the primary objections to the machines by voting machine opponents. There is no paper trail, no voter record. (See "Let the Voter Beware, or Be Confident of the Count?").
Lewis said the tapes must read zero before the counting starts. He signs off on each machine he has checked. The person who will monitor the machine at the polling place must also initial the tape.
The machines are stored in a dusty storage room off the main area. Lewis said there are 78 machines in the St. Thomas-St. John district. Supervisor of Elections John Abramson said at a recent Senate meeting that he was expecting 15 new machines in time for the Nov. 2 election. Abramson said Tuesday that the machines are "en route."
One concern of Lewis on Tuesday was to set the machines to make certain no Republican candidate's name would appear in uncontested races Sept. 11. Voting machine tests will also be conducted on Oct. 3 and Oct. 24.
Meantime, on St. Croix, Patrick Phillips, owner of P and P Consultants, conducted a machine demonstration.
According to the Tuesday Avis newspaper, a few residents and candidates showed up for the testing. Gonzalo Rivera, a St. Croix radio talk show host who has long advocated for a paper audit trail, questioned the accuracy of the machines. He was particularly interested after it took three tries before the selected machine was certified, the article said.
Rivera and senatorial candidate Terrence Nelson asked Phillips how voters would be able to verify their votes were correctly recorded. "As candidates and individuals, we're saying there should be check and balances," Nelson said, according to the article. He asked, "What guarantee is there that the tabulation will be correct?"
Phillips said, "The machine is not prejudiced. If the machine makes a mistake once, it will do it again and again." He said a flashing error code alerts poll monitors if a problem exists. He said it is also the voter's responsibility to verify the lights and that the machine corresponds with the choices he or she makes.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. for the Sept. 11 primary election. Voters should use the following locations:
– St. Thomas – Addelita Cancryn Junior High or Joseph Gomez Elementary schools.
– St. John – Julius Sprauve Elementary School in Cruz Bay.
– St. Croix – Alexander Henderson or Juanita Gardine elementary school.
Call the elections offices, should you not know where to vote.
(See "Source Official Election Calendar" for 2004 for phone numbers and addresses.)
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