Online Video of Purported E-Voting 'Flip' Is Disputed
Let's call it the Loch Ness monster video of the touch-screen e-voting world.
A recently posted video that purports to "expose" a touch-screen e-voting machine that flipped votes during a demonstration run by a county election clerk in West Virginia was apparently edited and didn't show the whole interview and demonstration by the official.
So when the two-minute, 16-second video clip was posted on VideoTheVote.org's Web site is viewed, it appears that the machine "flips" or switches the selected choice made on the ballot by the election official.
But in interviews Wednesday, the freelance videographer who shot the footage, as well as an official in the West Virginia Secretary of State's office, a spokesman for Video The Vote and the county clerk in the video, all agreed that the machine apparently worked properly but that the clerk made a procedural mistake as he showed the process on the machine.
The video came after recent problems were reported by several voters in West Virginia after the state's early voting process began Oct. 17. The video was posted a week after West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland held a press conference in Charleston to give her response to "vote-flipping" problems allegedly experienced by at least two voters in Jackson County.
According to Ireland, immediate investigations showed that the machines, built by Election Systems & Software of Omaha, were working properly, and she directed all state elections officials to recalibrate the machines and watch over their operations vigilantly until the polls close on Election Day.
Sarah Bailey, one of Ireland's two deputy secretaries of state, said that after she heard about the video, which she called "fraudulent" and misleading, she contacted Ian Inaba, the co-founder of Video The Vote, to challenge the video's assertions.
What happened, she said, is that the election official, Jackson County Cerk Jeff Waybright, made a mistake when explaining the operation of the machine on the video, and that the VideoTheVote.org group then took the explanation out of context in its video segment. The posted video included a little more than two minutes of the original 30- to 40-minute video segment.
"It just seems that this group is more interested in sensationalizing it than real reporting," Bailey said. "Our investigators have been out to Jackson County [after the recent concerns from several voters] and their touch screens are perfectly calibrated," she said.
The brief video shows Waybright explaining how to select a candidate with his fingertip on the ballot screen. Then he watches as the machine records a selection for a completely different candidate on the ballot. Waybright then explains the "vote-flipping" problem by saying the machine needs to be recalibrated. He then does that by inserting a special recalibration card and conducting a 20-point recalibration, all of which is unseen in the brief clip. The recalibration is designed to ensure that when touching a particular spot on the voting machine screen, the voter's candidate is chosen. The calibration is supposed to align the touch points on the screen to the ballot choices, according to the e-voting machine vendors.
In his demo, Waybright touched the straight Democratic ticket to cast his ballot. He then selected independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, then pushed the button for the straight Republican ticket.
When he did that, Nader remained selected, causing him to think there was a problem, so he said in the video clip that the calibration needed to be redone.
That was an incorrect conclusion, Bailey said. The machines are designed to maintain previously selected candidates if a voter later chooses a straight party ticket, so those choices have to be manually changed, if desired, she said. On the short posted video clip, Waybright "mistakenly said it was still miscalibrated" after the vote is not recorded properly, Bailey said. "That's what it was supposed to do. That's what the screen tells you it did."
Stephen Schmidt, the Charleston, W.V.-based independent filmmaker/videographer who shot the demonstration, said the interview was done last Thursday and that Waybright was "very forthcoming, very friendly," as he gave the demonstration.
Schmidt said the full tape of the interview shows what Bailey described -- that the machine was working properly and that it did not flip any votes. Instead, Schmidt said, Waybright later said on the tape that he made an error as he did the demonstration, but that that part of the interview was edited out in the posted version.
Once Schmidt finished the interview, he sent the tapes to VideoTheVote.org, which did the editing and posting.
"It appears in the [posted] video that there was a flaw or a glitch, that the machine wasn't properly calibrated," Schmidt said. "That wasn't the case. It was a process flaw."
"I feel very strongly about objectivity," he said. "If there is [an actual] flaw, then that is news. But what is presented there [in the video clip] does not represent a miscalibration of the machine. It's a misunderstanding that just comes at a very bad time."
Ian Inaba, co-founder of VideoTheVote, a nonprofit project of the Citizen Engagement Lab in Oakland, Calif., said Wednesday that editors with his organization have reviewed the full context of the interview and are working to post the entire segment.
The interview is contained in a 900MB file and is taking several hours to upload to the Web site, but it should be posted by later Wednesday, he said.
Inaba said that when editors with his group reviewed the tape, they saw what they believed to be graphic evidence of the flipping problem with the machines, which had been recently reported by several voters in the county. Because the problem apparently occurred for Waybright, an election official, they were particularly interested, he said.
Waybright was heard on the complete tape describing his error in the demonstration, Inaba said, but the error wasn't emphasized, he said.
Originally in the interview, Waybright showed the process, did a recalibration, then "he didn't correct himself," Inaba said. "At no point in the interview did he really correct himself and say he made a mistake."
At the same time, Inaba said, the complete video does show that Waybright, a county election official, doesn't seem to know how his own machines work. "This is the county clerk and he's supposed to explain it to voters and during the process, he even got confused," Inaba said.
In an interview Wednesday, Waybright said he hasn't yet seen the edited or unedited video. What happened, he said, was that he simply rushed to help accommodate the videographer, who arrived without an appointment and asked for an interview.
"I was doing it so quickly as I was trying to go through it," Waybright said. "I was late for a meeting. I was just trying to do them a favor because they came in unannounced."