Q: Why did we change the way we vote? What was wrong with the optical scan system?
A: The optical scan system served the City of Alexandria well, but was nearly 9 years old and required increased maintenance. Additionally, the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act on October 29, 2002. The Act mandates the availability of voting systems that are accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who are blind, in each polling site by early 2006.
Q: Why did the City of Alexandria choose electronic voting?
A: The eSlate Voting System has the three qualities that are essential in a voting system: It is accurate, secure and very accessible to all voters, even those who are blind, visually impaired or who have limited or no mobility.
Q: How was the eSlate system chosen?
A: The Alexandria Electoral Board researched voting systems for 2 and ½ years prior to selecting eSlate. The Board reviewed all systems that were certified by the State Board of Elections and conducted tests of their two top choices. The Board involved over 40 organizations and citizens such as the Commission on Persons with Disabilities, N.A.A.C.P., League of Women Voters, Hispanic Advisory Committee, Office on Aging and Adult Services, elected officials, political parties, and technology experts. The process included using various systems during live elections so voters could experience the different voting systems and express their opinions. The Electoral Board and nearly all involved believe this system will serve City of Alexandria voters well for many years to come. In accordance with the Electoral Board’s recommendation, the Alexandria City Council authorized purchase on October 28, 2003.
Q: How much did the new system cost?
A: The City of Alexandria spent about $750,000 on the voting system. The price included all voting equipment and firmware for in-person voting, and a new system for absentee voters. The purchase price was offset by about $100,000 in federal assistance.
Q: If I’m new to Alexandria, how can I learn to use eSlate?
A: The equipment is available daily for demonstration at the Voter Registration Office which is located at 132 North Royal Street, Suite 100 in Old Town and at the Mill Rd. DMV in Alexandria. Our web site, alexandriavoter.org also provides a How to Vote video or slideshow.
Q: Is the new system based on a touch screen, like some ATMs?
A: No, the voter uses a rotary wheel to navigate through the ballot and select his or her vote. This interface was chosen because it is more accurate and durable than touch screen systems, and voters with limited or no vision also find the system very easy to use.
Q: I have never been able to vote without someone helping me. Will someone be there to help me with this new system?
A: Yes. Someone will be there to help you, but the system is designed to help you vote without assistance. There is an audio ballot reader that can help if you have problems with your eyesight or difficulties reading the ballot for other reasons, and a special HELP button is available if you have a question.
Q: How can we sure this system is working as it should be?
A: Before any vote is cast, there is a rigorous process of testing the machines to be sure they are working as expected. This process, known as logic and accuracy testing, allows election officials to be sure votes are counted as they are cast.
Q: How do I know that the way the electronic voting system recorded my vote is the same way I intended to cast my vote?
A: After you have voted in the last contest on the ballot, a screen will appear listing all the choices you have made, and it will let you know if you missed voting in any race. If you choose not to vote in the last contest listed on the ballot, simply press the NEXT button to get to your ballot summary screen. Although you may change your selections at any time, you may also make corrections from the BALLOT SUMMARY screen to make sure your votes are counted the way you want them to be. When you are finished reviewing your ballot, press the CAST BALLOT button to put your ballot into the electronic ballot box. You will see a waving American flag when your vote is cast.
Q: How do I know my votes are private and that there is not a database in the computer somewhere that records how I have voted?
A: There is no way for the system to tie your vote to you. When you vote, there is no identifying information recorded with your vote. You will be given a randomly generated four-digit access code that tells the eSlate which ballot races you should receive based on your precinct number. But the access code is not associated with your name. Therefore, it is impossible to trace your vote.
Q: What if I change my mind or make a mistake after I have pressed the ENTER button?
A: A voter can change any vote at any time until the “CAST BALLOT” button is pressed and you see the American flag waving on the screen. To change a vote, just use the wheel to highlight the candidate you want to vote for, and then press the ENTER button. The earlier vote is erased, and the new vote can be selected.
Q: What if I don't want to vote in a particular race?
A: Then you don’t have to. It is your decision and right to choose not to vote in any race. Just use the wheel to scroll past the race you want to skip. After you have voted in the last contest on the ballot, a BALLOT SUMMARY screen will appear listing all the choices you have made and will let you know if you missed voting in any race. If you choose not to vote in the last contest listed on the ballot, simply press the NEXT button to get to your BALLOT SUMMARY screen. You will see a list of the votes you have cast, and any skipped races will be noted with “No Selection" highlighted in red. You can either go back and vote in the skipped race, or press the “CAST BALLOT” button to submit your ballot with no votes in the races you intend not to vote.
Q: What if I accidentally vote twice in a race? Will my vote be discarded?
A: You cannot vote twice unless the contest is a “vote for two or more.” The system is programmed to prevent "overvoting" which is when someone accidentally casts more than the permitted number of votes in a race.
Q: How do I know that my vote has been cast and counted?
A: Whenever a voter presses the "CAST BALLOT" button and the waving American flag appears, the vote is cast and counted.
Q: If the power fails or if there is some other computer failure will my vote be lost?
A: No, your vote cannot be lost once you have pressed the "CAST BALLOT" and you see the waving American flag. Your votes are stored in three separate places, and all data is protected and cannot be lost in the unlikely event that the system fails. The system also has a battery back-up that immediately engages if an electrical failure should occur. The batteries last for 18 hours of continuous use.
Q: What if a recount is necessary?
A: If necessary, the new system can provide election officials with a paper Cast Vote Record that shows what votes were cast on each voting device. This Cast Vote Record provides a means of recounting votes and ensuring that results are accurate.
Q: Computer experts claim that there is no way to audit the vote without a paper trail? Does this system have paper backup?
A: Actually, this system provides voters with much better confidence that their vote will be counted as they intended. First, the voting device provides each voter with a summary of all their votes, alerting them to any races they missed, and allowing them to make changes until they are satisfied. They have visual confirmation that they voted exactly as they intended. To ensure those votes are recorded correctly, the system programming is tested and validated before and after the election – in the presence of witnesses – to ensure that votes are counted and reported as they are cast, through a process known as logic and accuracy testing. There are many other security features – both in process and in equipment and software – built into the process. And while a paper printout could be added to the equipment, it isn’t necessary to ensure secure and accurate elections. Such a step also would introduce new privacy and security concerns and add unnecessary complications and costs to the process.
Q: Is eSlate in use anywhere in Virginia?
A: Yes, in Charlottesville and Falls Church. In addition, the system is in use in various large and small jurisdictions throughout the nation.
eSlate is a trademark of Hart InterCivic, Inc.