TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Lever Voting Machines - What's Wrong?

Re: Lever Voting Machines - What's Wrong?

Robert Bonomi (
Wed, 03 Nov 2004 20:03:55 +0000

In article <>, Lisa Hancock
<> wrote:

> My county uses "lever" voting machines, which are wholly mechanical.
> You simply push a lever for each desired candidate and when you open
> the curtain (a big lever) the votes are recorded on counters.

> The machines contain interlockings so you can only vote for the
> prescribed number of candidates for an office. That's usually one,
> but some offices you vote for three of five candidates (ie town
> councils). I understand some newer machines have no such protection
> and such overvotes ended up wasting a ballot.

> Another advtg is that you enter the machine with an open curtain, pull
> a master lever to close it and open the machine to accept your votes,
> then pull the master again to record your final votes and open the
> curtain. The curtains are large and fully enclosed -- it appears that
> modern electronic machines have very tiny curtains or just a small
> divider, limiting voter privacy.

> Yet I understand these machines are very old and not made anymore.
> Other counties went to punch cards and we know about their problems.
> Many counties are going electronic but sometimes those machines fail.

> Is there a reason mechanical machines are so out of favor? Sure, they
> would require maintenance and setup and there is a cost to that, but
> that is only twice a year. If the machines were in production, costs
> would be lower. A modern generation would probably have newer
> mechanical engineering and lighter better wearing gears.

There are several reasons those mechanical machines have fallen out of

1) they are *BIG* and *HEAVY* The cost for storage storage
space is non-trivial. Ditto the cost of transport to/from each
polling place.

2) They require a _lot_ of labor for set-up. This has to be done
_before_ they are transported to the polling places; which means
that you have to move them around in that storage space, to work
on them. This adds to the space requirements for storage.

Also, for a large/complex election, one person can service about
*five* machines in an 8 hour shift. For a 'simple' election,
productivity is only about 3 times higher.

3) There is a physical limit to the number of candidates/offices
that the mechanical-lever voting machine can handle. With
'unified' general elections -- *everything* happens on that
'Tuesday' in November -- in many locales the capacity of the
lever machines is simply insufficient.

I don't remember what the actual numbers are, but if the lever
machine has only 240 'individual vote' levers, and there are a
total of 244 candidates running across all the positions being
voted on, then, obviously, you =cannot= use the lever machine for
that election.

Now, for a concrete illustration: the State of Iowa has about 2100
polling places state-wide. You have to have an *absolute*minimum* of
2 machines at every polling place, and precincts in the larger cities
typically have 4 or more per location. This works out to at least 6-8
_thousand_ machines, state-wide. 15,000-20,000 sq.ft of storage space
needed, in roughly 100 different locations. Plus, call it four
*thousand* man-hours for 'programming' the machines, per location.
Plus delivery (and retrieval). A 24' straight truck can hold about 36
machines at one time. Which is about what can be delivered in an
8-hour shift, with a two (possibly three) man crew. Call it 200
truck-loads going out, and another 200 truck-loads coming back,

Now, lets add up the costs. per election
20,000 sq ft storage @ $6/sq.ft/yr. $120,000*
* assumes 1 general election and 1 primary
every two years. same as 1/year
'programming' $30/hr, 30 min/machine $120,000
delivery $ 90,000*
* 2 men at $25/hr ea, truck at $50/day
return to storage $ 90,000

Throw in the costs of printing and inserting the lever 'labels',
required repairs, amortization of the purchase price, etc. and you're
easily over $500,000 per election. or $250/polling place.

Compare that to the costs of using the 'punch-card' ballot machines --
like the (in)famous ones used in Florida, in 2000.
voting machine storage (about 2% of the space required
for lever machines) $ 2,400

'programming' -zero- delivery (100 _car_ loads, 1 man)
return to storage $23,000

To be fair, you have to figure in the cost of the punch-card ballots
(about 1 cent each). Iowa votes around 1 million ballots,, so that's
an extra $10,000.00.

Oh my, we're up to a cost of circa $60,000/election. vs $500,000+
using the old lever machines.

'optical scan' ballots -- allowing the use of a cardboard,
_throw-away_, privacy screen, can reduce the delivery cost even
further. *and* eliminate the 'return to storage' cost, as well as the
need for long-term storage.

'overhead' down to circa $15,000. Ballot consumables at around $20,000.

And you wonder _why_ they don't use lever machines today ?

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