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Public scrutiny of voting problems needed

Sunday, April 09, 2006
Daily Herald

The polling place debacles during the presidential race almost six years ago should remind all of us how vital it is to design voting systems that are reliable. Even today, no one can be sure how accurate the vote tally was in that monumental race in Florida.
We don’t want the same thing to be said of Cook County some day.
The obligation of the clerk’s office is clear and simple: Every vote that is cast should be counted. Absolutely. The republic is founded on that notion.
But meeting that obligation may sometimes be more complex.
To be sure, the clerk’s office had its hands full during the primary election two weeks ago. It was the first election to include early voting. It was the first election to use touch-screen voting machines. It was the first election to use optical-scan balloting. It was one of those elections where, if anything could go wrong, it would. Officials in the clerk’s office knew that. In the days preceding the election, they warned that the results would be much later than normal, and that prediction certainly turned out to be correct — the outcome of at least one race wasn’t known for days.
Certainly, that delay is frustrating, but what’s much more important than the speed of the vote count is the accuracy of the vote count.
Over the years, we’ve been impressed with the professionalism of Clerk David Orr’s operation. But there were a number of new elements added to the mix on March 21, and the chaos in some precincts on Election Day suggests that a constructive public critique session is order.
Without a doubt, some votes were missing on election night, apparently not turned in or else delivered to the wrong place. This doesn’t have to be a crisis. The canvass seems to have found those votes and remedied the errors. But can we feel confident that every vote was, in fact, found? And has the clerk’s office been able to identify and develop a solution for all of the myriad problems that occurred?
Public hearings, in an unpoliticized atmosphere of problem-solving, would address all that. They would help identify problems and potential solutions. They would reassure the electorate that their votes count.
Orr has shown already that he is taking these problems seriously. He is suggesting procedural changes that, on their face, seem to make sense. But in doing so, he has attributed much of confusion to mistakes by election judges. He may be right, but not all election judges agree.
Hearings involving all interested parties would clear that up. Finger pointing is neither necessary nor helpful. But getting to the crux of the problems so they can be solved is what the business notion of continuous improvement is all about.
Too much is at stake to ignore that philosophy here.


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