PROVIDENCE — Following a series of mishaps involving new Spanish-language ballot-marking machines, the state Board of Elections this week adopted a new written protocol for the proofing and testing of the ExpressVote machines.
Some new touch-screen machines for voting in Spanish erroneously had displayed 2018 candidates during this year’s early voting in Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, and Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo’s name was misspelled as “Gonzolo.”
Those problems prompted finger pointing between Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea and the Board of Elections. But on Tuesday, the Board of Elections voted unanimously to adopt the new regulations, which will be in place for the Nov. 8 general election and for the early voting period that starts Oct. 19.
“Using this new protocol, ExpressVote and DS200 proofing and testing will be completed in the coming days, and prior to the start of early voting on Oct. 19,” said Robert Rapoza, executive director of the Board of Elections. “With these measures in place, Rhode Island voters can have full confidence casting their ballots utilizing ExpressVote machines.”
In a statement Wednesday, the board said it worked with the secretary of state’s office and the ExpressVote vendor, Election Systems & Software, to develop the protocol “to ensure better collaboration between all parties during the proofing and testing period.”
The protocol states that:
- ES&S will now provide the secretary of state’s office with virtual ExpressVote screens to proof the onscreen ballots before testing is conducted.
- The secretary of state will now certify that all ballot types, both printed and electronic, have been reviewed by that office for accuracy.
- The Board of Elections, as part of testing, will compare the ExpressVote screen to an actual test ballot, and verify that both the screen and printed ExpressVote card are accurate.
- Test cards will be inserted into the corresponding DS200 to confirm tabulation.
Because of the problems, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza had called for removing the ExpressVote ballot-marking machines just before the Sept. 13 primary elections, but the Board of Elections rejected that idea, saying that would leave Rhode Islanders with disabilities with no accessible voting method.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and Common Cause Rhode Island warned that removing the machines, which let voters choose candidates on a touch-screen or by using a remote, would violate state and federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On Wednesday, John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, emphasized that while not every voter has to use the ExpressVote machines, every voter has to be given the opportunity to use the machines, which are for voters who are unable to mark their own ballots because of visual, audio, or dexterity disabilities.
“The new protocol appears to put in place safeguards that would catch the type of mistakes that were made prior to the September primary,” Marion said. “But I would add there may be ways to expand the pre-election testing in the future that would provide even more assurance.”
Voters face somewhat different ballots at different polling places, so it’s impossible to test every permutation of every ballot, but there are ways to expand testing and the number of samples, he said.
“This is what should have been done prior to the primary election,” Marion said. “Even with this protocol, it still does not solve the underlying problem, which is that state law is ambiguous about whether the Board of Elections or the secretary of state is responsible for preparing the accessible voting equipment.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.