Cambridge, MA on Voting Equipment

The Cambridge, Massachusetts city clerk, Theresa Neighbor, wrote the following letter describing Cambridge's experience in adopting optical scan voting equipment that is capable of conducting ranked-ballot elections.

(original on letterhead)

April 7, 2003

To Whom It May Concern:

Since 1941 the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has used “choice” voting to elect its City Council and School Committee. Until 1997 paper ballots were tallied by hand, a process that took approximately one hundred workers and six days to complete. Plurality elections were conducted using a punch card system.

Computerization of the “choice” count in 1997 made it possible to perform the tallying function electronically. The computerized election system has two major components: a precinct-based optical scanning system (AccuVote) and a software program (Choice Plus Pro) which tallies the ballots. The optical scanner records an electronic image of the ballot as it passes into the ballot box. That image is captured on a memory card which is uploaded on election night to a computer which separates the ballot records by race without tallying them. The ballot records are then copied to a disk which is uploaded to another computer. The second computer contains the software that tallies the ballots.

The process that led to computerization began in 1995 when the Cambridge Board of Election Commissioners formed a Technical Working Committee for Computerization of Cambridge Elections (TWCC) to explore voting systems that could accommodate both plurality and “choice” voting. A Request for Information (RFI) was sent to twenty-six vendors approved by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), ten of whom responded. The proposed systems tended primarily to direct recording devices (touch screen) and optical scanners using Marksense ballots.

Based on performance measures and a cost-benefit analysis, the Committee unanimously recommended the adoption of an optical scanning system using Marksense ballots for all Cambridge elections. Direct recording systems were considered a too costly and immature technology to warrant consideration at that time. As of this writing, no direct recording systems have been certified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (Please refer to “The Report of the Technical Working Committee for the Computerization of Cambridge Elections,” January 3, 1996, for a full documentation of the process.)

The issuing of an RFP for an optical scanning system using Marksense ballots for both plurality and “choice” elections yielded one response – from LHS Associates, Inc. , a distributor of the AccuVote ES-2000 for Global Election Systems (now Diebold), one of two optical scanning systems certified by the Secretary of the Commonwealth for use in Massachusetts elections. Included in the extensive criteria was a “guarantee of compatibility with tabulating software.” Adapting the AccuVote ES-2000 to accommodate “choice” voting involved the development of software that would “scan, record, and read out,” rather than tabulate, “choice” ballots for City Council and School Committee. There was a one-time cost of $40,000 for the software development that was independent of the number of voting machines. The adapted system would permit ballot questions to be tabulated in the usual manner.

Choice Plus Pro, the tabulation software produced by Voting Solutions, Inc., cost the City $14,500 and included a variety of features geared specifically to the Cambridge Rules for tallying ”choice” voting.

AccuVote was first used in a plurality election in Cambridge in September, 1996. The fully computerized system for “choice” voting was successfully demonstrated and approved for field testing by the Elections Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in May, 1997. It was implemented for the first time in the November Municipal Election later that year and was subsequently certified by the Commonwealth for use in all “choice” elections in Cambridge.



Teresa S. Neighbor

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