Did you know that before every election, city, village and township clerks across the state (and the country) perform a public accuracy test of the computers used to tabulate your votes?
Terri Royal, Chelsea‘s clerk/treasurer performed this test for the Aug. 7 primary on Friday, July 27, in the downstairs conference room of the Chelsea City Offices.
She’s been doing it for the last 10 years as city clerk, well before election day, in case she finds a problem with one of the two precinct computers.
A notice of the test dates and times are posted on the city’s Website as well as in the city’s publication of record.
Royal prepared “fake votes,” for each precinct — marking different ovals for candidates on test ballots supplied by the county. She’d filled out almost 30 test ballots, some marked for Precinct 1 and others marked for Precinct 2.
Some of the ballots were marked correctly; others contained errors — such as votes for both Republicans and Democrats on the same ballot.
Plus, she’d tabulated her own counts of the “fake votes” to check them against the official tape, which would be generated by the computers at the end of the test.
Keep in mind that people must vote along party lines in the Aug. 7 primary. So once you pick a party on your ballot, you must stick with that party. If you cross party lines, the machine will alert election workers that there is a problem with the ballot and reject it.
Should you make a mistake, election workers will give voters other opportunity to vote on a new ballot, if you want your choices to count in the final results.
You don’t have to be a registered Democrat or a Republican to vote that way in a primary. (In November, however, you can vote for any candidate on the ballot.)
So with the first of two Accu-vote computers in place, Royal pushed the start button and generated a “zero tape,” which showed all of the names of the candidates on the ballot followed by zero votes for each.
If it had been election day, all the election workers would have signed the tape, Royal said.
Then she began feeding in ballots just as voters will do on Aug. 7.
Royal fed them one by one, front side up, back side up — every possible way a voter might feed a ballot into the machine from a privacy sleeve. And when the computer detected a problem, the ballot was spit back out and a message was generated on a computer screen.
Once all the test ballots for Precinct 1 had been fed into the machine, Royal ended the fake voting with a special “ender card,” that signals to the computer that this is the last vote. Then she compared her vote tally, or her predetermined result, with what the machine spit out.
The machine showed a difference of one vote from her tabulation. Yup, she’d made a mistake and the machine caught it.
The same procedure took place for Precinct 2 fake votes, and both Royal and the computer agreed on the results.
Although the clerk performs the public accuracy test to make sure the election computers were working correctly before Election Day, it’s the paid trained election workers who run the show for the real vote.
In Chelsea, the election chairman is paid $12 per hour, while the other workers receive $8 per hour.
Royal is there to open and close the polls, but otherwise, she stays away from the process. About 20 workers run the actual election.
She says although it’s hard to stay away from the polls, “it’s their election to run, I just oversee it,” although she does check in with them periodically throughout the day.
Here are some things Royal suggests voters keep in mind before they arrive to vote.
Neither the election workers nor the clerk can give out information about the candidates. “Do your homework ahead of time,” she said, because “We can’t help people vote.”
Be sure to bring a valid driver’s license with you, and you’ll find something new thing year. Once you’ve filled out your sheet with your name and address, you’ll still hand it to an election worker with your driver’s license, but your license will be swiped and recorded in an electronic poll book.
Absentee ballots will be fed into the voting machines during lulls in voting so the process doesn’t slow down people who are there in person.
Place your ballot in the secrecy sleeve when you are finished voting, and if you are having a problem feeding it into the machine, don’t take it out of the sleeve and hand it to an election worker.
Voting is a private matter, Royal said.
On Aug. 7, the 2,726 registered city voters have the opportunity to cast their votes from 7 a.m.- 8 p.m. at the Washington Street Education Center cafeteria at 500 Washington St.
So far, about 200 absentee votes have been received by the clerk for each precinct.