The River

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

It's who counts the votes

This article explains, as far as possible, the nuts and bolts of how 99% of the counties in the USA incredibly delegate the "counting" of our votes to a few private companies, who "count" the votes in secret.



Although I was ill on Election Day, I knew I had to go to the county clerk’s office to observe “counting” of the vote. It is, after all, the only “counting” open to the public. What I saw in Chicago, however, only made me more nauseous.

The only “vote count” the press or public can observe in Chicago is what is projected on screens. The opening screen read: ES&S Automatic Election Returns, Release 35, Under License to the City of Chicago, Serial No. 0004, Copyright 1987.

Carl Zimmerman, technical supervisor for the clerk’s office, said that the computer that ran the system was in the back, “in the ES&S room,” he said.

At 7 p.m., Jonathan Lin, a worker on the county clerk’s computer staff, came out and turned on the monitors on the 6th floor, where the City of Chicago votes were tallied and displayed. Behind him was Rick Thurman, an ES&S technician, checking the first results.

Thurman seemed surprised when I asked him if he worked for ES&S. He said that the company had about 6 engineers running the computer in the back room. He then checked himself, saying he had said too much.

Later I asked Lin who was actually operating the computer that was generating the results being shown on the monitors. “ES&S is running the mainframe for all of this,” Lin said pointing to the television displays.

In the press room in the back I noticed stacks of boxes containing “Votamatic” voting machines and “pre-punched” ballots printed by ES&S of Addison, Texas, for the different precincts in Cook County. In the rear hallway behind the press room was the ES&S room. Only ES&S personnel were allowed into the room.

When I poked around in the hallway and peeked into the ES&S room an armed marshal and ES&S employee quickly appeared. In no condition for a confrontation, I made myself scarce.

I met a couple reporters from CLTV, a local cable channel of WGN. One of the reporters asked about my interest in the Chicago tallies. I said I was interested to see how a private company runs the elections in Chicago.

Seemingly unaware of how ES&S operates elections in Cook County, I explained the basics. “I’ve observed elections across Europe,” I added, “from France and Germany to Serbia and Holland. Everywhere in Europe voting is done on paper ballots that are counted by the citizens -- except Holland.”

Obviously uncomfortable with this discussion the reporter responded, “I’m glad I’m not in Serbia. I don’t mind if a machine counts the votes.”

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