This is the conclusion of a four-part series. All figures and references are numbered sequentially throughout the series.

6. Absentee Voting

The absentee ballot application process in at least two Florida counties, Seminole and Martin, had flaws. Forty-eight-hundred ballot applications that were sent out by Republicans were not printed with voter ID numbers. When they were rejected, Republican volunteers filled in the numbers. Democrats objected, and the issue had to be resolved in court.26

Information problems, such as missing voter registration ID number spaces in some absentee ballots, postmark problems and the higher potential for fraud or coercion, suggest finding ways to minimize absentee voting such as early voting. Nashville, Tennessee (Davidson County), produced 29.9 percent of its 208,588 presidential votes in early voting with only 0.12 percent (254 votes) of its votes cast by absentee ballot.27 On the other hand, Baltimore, Maryland, without early voting, had 12,422 absentee ballots out of 304,084 – a 4.19 percent rate, 35 times the absentee ballot rate in Davidson County.28 Not only does early voting minimize problem absentee votes, it increases overall voter turnout.

IQ Lesson 13: Processes that are "controlled" are best able to provide consistent results.

QI Recommendation: Implement early voting to minimize absentee votes, maximize control over the voting process and increase accessibility to the voting process. This will also decrease demand at the polls on election day and increase overall voter participation.

7. Election Process Improvement

The Quality Improvement Method is required for election process reform. To solve any problem, one must apply a true problem-solving technique such as the Shewhart Cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act or PDCA cycle, for process improvement. The Plan component must analyze and identify the root cause(s). Without understanding the root cause, you may only attack the symptoms and fail to accomplish permanent quality improvement.

IQ Lesson 14: The various problems exposed during the 2000 election confirm chronic problems in the election processes. PDCA is required to obtain zero defects. Sample precincts with different technologies as prototypes should be selected for full and rigorous PDCA improvements, both before and during the 2002 elections. Prototype improvement initiatives can be overseen by neutral quality improvement experts or election commission personnel trained in quality improvement methods. Included in this are:

  • Cause-and- effect analysis to understand root causes. A simple but effective technique is to ask "Why?" until your get to the root cause.
  • Definition of specific improvements that will eliminate the recurrence of defects (failure to know a voter has already registered, unintentional undervote or overvote, etc.).
  • A controlled test environment using real voters to assure the improvements eliminate the defects encountered in the last election without creating negative side effects. The irony of the Palm Beach butterfly ballot was that this ballot design represented a "planned improvement" to the ballot to increase the print size for ease of readability by the elderly. Unfortunately, it produced the negative side effect (in which one improvement creates unintentional errors in other ways) of confusion.
  • Implement the improvements (or revised improvements as necessary) for the next election. Provide the training to ballot designers and election workers as to the new procedures.

QI Recommendation: Design tests to measure "accuracy" of votes (the voter actually cast a vote for the candidate he/she intended). This must include having the voters record their votes and then testing that the actual produced votes – whether punch card, optically scanned ballot or electronic vote – were what they intended. This must be conducted in a way to maintain the voters' right to a secret ballot.

QI Recommendation: Have quality personnel observe registration, voting and counting processes to help analyze rejected votes. Attention should be paid to instances where voters request additional ballots because of spoiling the first. Observers who have quality training and who are not part of the traditional voting processes can see problematic procedures that seem perfectly normal to those who have "always done it this way."

QI Recommendation: Provide voter ("customer") satisfaction cards with standardized questions and space to allow for complaints and suggestions for improvement. This should be done for every voting precinct and sample voting reform studies, and should be a regular practice. The voter satisfaction card should be standardized so that the data can be analyzed across a broad set of voting environments. Analyze key quality indicators centrally that will allow general continuous improvement recommendations in the next election and at the local level for local improvements. These cards should be mailed or dropped in a separate box, to allow independent assessment, with feedback provided to precincts and election jurisdiction officials.

Immediate Feedback

In the 26 Florida counties that used punch-card ballots, approximately four percent were undervotes in the presidential race. However, in the 23 optical scan counties where ballots were checked as soon as the voters completed them, the undervote rate for president was less than one percent.29 Information technologies are not immune to errors that may go unnoticed by distracted or preoccupied voters, and punch-card ballots can be validated by voters in the voting booths.

QI Recommendation: Establish a point-of-vote feedback mechanism for each voting technology and voting process so that a voter can provide quality assurance on his or her own vote. Examples include:

  • Electronic (DRE): Provide a separate screen that isolates the voter's selections independently of the ballot selection screen for voter validation. The Tru-Vote Validation and Verification Voting System is the only system I know of that provides this capability.30 Figure 8 shows the Tru-Vote split screen with candidate choices on the left screen and the actual voter selections as they are made on the right screen. The voter is visually alerted to the fact that he/she may have overlooked a specific race and can return to that ballot screen before confirming his/her vote.

Figure 8: Tru-Vote Split-Screen Shot

  • Optical scan: Have the voters scan their ballots or scan the ballots in the voters' presence to validate their choices.
  • Punch card: Create a vote-validation template and make it available in the voting booth. Voters would place their punched ballots on top of the template to validate. Voters can look for completely removed chads and for colors that show through to verify that they have one and only one color showing through for each race and that there is no red (or color representing an invalid hole punch) showing through. This would require assistance for color-blind persons. See Figure 9 as an example of a completed punch ballot and Figure 10 of a color-coded template illustrating how possible errors could be caught by the voter or poll worker.

Figure 9: Punch-Card Ballot

Figure 10: Punch- Card Ballot Validation Template

An alternative is to have a template to place over the ballot after punching the ballot. The template would have open boxes, one for each race. Each box would be a unique opening exposing all punch options for one race only. Light would show through the punched chads into an open box around all the chads. If more than one punch hole shows light within one race box, the voter has created an "overvote." No hole in which light shines through within one race box represents an "undervote."

Subsequent Verification

The Report of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project concludes, "Some day each voter will be able to verify that his or her vote was counted without compromising the security of the ballot."31

IQ Lesson 15: Every voter should have the ability to verify that his/her vote has not only been cast at the ballot box, but also that it has been properly recorded in the vote tally. This requirement is the ultimate audit of the election processes.

QI Recommendation: Define a process whereby the voter can verify that his/her vote was recorded as cast. This requires a unique identification of each vote and a secure identification of each voter such that it can query, without alteration, that the vote was recorded in the official vote tally. The Tru-Vote Voting System is the only system I know of with this feature; it creates a printed receipt with a unique vote ID number and a separate printed PIN number that the voter can use to query an election database to confirm that the vote was included in the vote tally. Figure 11 illustrates the printed receipt. For more information about The Tru-Vote system, visit This audit capability assures voters that their votes are recorded. It can also be used to identify potential voting irregularities.

Figure 11: Tru-Vote Receipt

Training Required

The confusion surrounding last year's election identified the need for ballot-designer education, poll-worker education and voter education. Voter "training" is essential because voters perform the voting process only once every two years or so.

IQ Lesson 16: Two of Deming's 14 Points of Quality call for training and education. Point 6, described earlier, states that for people to do a good job, they need training that is structured, not haphazard. Point 13, "Institute a vigorous program of education and self- improvement,"32 emphasizes it is not sufficient to know how to perform today's skills. We must continue to learn tomorrow's skills and constantly improve ourselves. While we need to develop stop-gap measures for the faulty election processes and technologies in place today, we must learn tomorrow's technologies and skills in order to reach a goal of zero defects, finally guaranteeing all voters the right to vote and have that vote recorded accurately as they intended.

QI Recommendation: Provide training to all election staff and poll workers in quality improvement principles and techniques. Learn about state-of-the-art technologies such as Tru-Vote and the process improvements required to assure zero defects in the voting process.

QI Recommendation: Provide training to voters. This training should include understanding of the voting procedures, what to do if problems occur and especially the types of errors that are inherent to the voting methods they will be using and how they can prevent those errors.

QI Recommendation: Maintain a practice voting booth at voter registration and other public places that is available any time. Encourage school field trips to the practice voting booth for near voting-age students.

QI Recommendation: E-mail sample ballots and voting instructions to registered voters, encouraging feedback if instructions are not clear. E-mails can and should have links to candidates and their positions and referenda descriptions with "official" pros and cons.

Physical Security of Electronic Data

Electronic recording systems are not without potential problems. Besides assuring the integrity of the software, they must provide redundancy of vote recording that allows for recovery from any type of failure, including device failure or sabotage of the voting machine itself.

QI Recommendation: Implement redundant data recording and secure at least one of the vote recording devices that could serve as a backup should the primary device be damaged or destroyed.

Election Reform

  • Election reform is demanded.
  • Election reform is possible, but not by substituting technology.
  • Election reform requires a vigorous program of information quality improvement.

Election reform can attain a goal of zero defects if we resolve to do so. Let us resolve never again to disenfranchise a single voter of his/her sacred right to vote because of defective electoral processes.

As Long-Term Goals:

  1. Replace voting methods that produce defective and ambiguous voting results with voting systems that are designed with quality principles, such as error-proofing techniques and audit verification capability.
  2. Implement a system of continuous process improvement to eliminate the causes of defects that are chronic in our electoral processes with the goal that no American citizen shall ever have his or her vote lost because of defective processes.

What do you think? Let me know at or on the IQ Forum under IQ Resources at


26. Leinwand, Donna. "2 absentee ballot disputes head to trial today," USA TODAY 6 December 2000, p 3A.

27. "November 7, 2000 Official Election Results," Tennessee Secretary of State, 11.htm.

28. "2000 Presidential General Election Official Results," Maryland Board of State Elections, source: , and "Number of Absentee Voters" .

29. Mintz, John and Dan Keating, loc. cit.

30. The Tru-Vote Validation and Verification Voting System (Patent Pending) has been designed and developed by Athan Gibbs, Sr., President of Tru-Vote International, Inc. The law office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman and Caldwell (headed by former U.S. Senator Howard Baker) has filed an application on the part of Athan Gibbs, Sr. and Tru-Vote International with the U.S. Office of Patent and Trademark. Tru-Vote International is looking for venture capital for the production of the Tru-Vote Voting System, contact Mr. Athan Gibbs at 615-242-1040 or

31. Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, op. cit., p. 80.

32. Deming, W. Edwards. Op cit., p. 24.

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