National News

Dear shorter people with long fingernails: Beware casting wrong ballot

Posted November 2, 2018 1:22 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA -- Voter suppression tactics, social media campaigns attempting to sway public opinion, Russian forces infiltrating American voting machines.

These are all concerns that have drawn headlines during these heated times. But there might be another threat to a well-oiled democracy in metro Atlanta and beyond.

Shorter folks and those with longer fingernails have reported vote-switching -- they intended to select one candidate on a touchscreen voting machine, but their vote is cast for another candidate.

In Georgia, this nail mishap is manifesting itself during the midterm election as voters trying to select Democrat Stacey Abrams and instead are marking Republican Brian Kemp as their choice for governor, said Janine Eveler, head of elections in Cobb County.

That's because Kemp is listed above Abrams, which is because his party is the party in power in the Governor's Mansion. So when some voters try to select Abrams, the fingernail accidentally hits the Kemp box.

Kemp is the secretary of state, meaning he is in charge of the state's elections systems.

"Because the candidate selected in error is the party in power, it looks suspicious to voters," Eveler said. "There aren't a lot of these, but those that come out are often picked up by the media and suspicions grow."

She said this often comes to light during races in which candidates on the ballot are separated by party.

"Because fingernails for women often extend beyond their finger pad, we've found that the reports are overwhelmingly made by female voters," Eveler said.

Georgia's NAACP chapter announced last week that it had filed complaints about these issues occurring throughout the state.

Joe Sorenson, spokesman for Gwinnett County, said that they have gotten three reports of this happening to voters with longer fingernails.

"This is extraordinarily long fingernails," he said. " ... Typically, when we have a lot of voters, we'll have one or two of these."

And this year certainly counts: Early voting totals across Georgia are breaking records.

The method of calibrating voting machines is why shorter voters and those using machines from non-standard angles, like elderly voters sitting down casting ballots at tabletop machines, have troubles with what also looks like vote-switching.

If a taller person calibrates the machine, that can change how a selection of the touchscreen is registered.

"Our staff is a really good mix of men, women, short, tall," Sorenson said.

In Cobb, Eveler said, the technicians who calibrate the touchscreens are "mostly male and taller than many female voters."

She continued: "When the screen is calibrated from a certain angle and the voter is a shorter person touching from a different angle, it can be misinterpreted to be a different place on the screen."

It seems that's just what happened to Joan Hagle.

The 69-year-old Cobb resident voted Thursday at a senior center in Acworth and said her vote for Abrams was marked as for Kemp the four or fives times she tried.

"They're trying to use this electronic for the goodness and swiftness of its possibilities, but it's not perfected right. And if you got to go back to the old method to do it right, so be it," she said.

Of course, none of this is a problem if voters are paying attention and reviewing their choices, but Hagle was worried that other people may be rushing through and not see the error.

"It alarmed me that it was going to sway voting," she said.

Eveler said the poll manager who helped Hagle reported the woman was using a voting machine that is on a table for voters who are disabled or elderly.

"He indicated that she did have longer fingernails and with the seated angle she kept getting an error in the selection," Eveler said.

She was moved to another machine and asked to use her knuckles to make her selection, and she was eventually able to vote, Eveler said. The first unit was tested and cleared before being put back into service.

Eveler said she encourages people to review the summary of their selections before submitting their ballot. If a voter thinks there has been a problem, alert the poll manager like Hagle did.

If an issue arises, voters can always call the Georgia elections fraud hotline at 877-725-9797 or the Justice Department's line at 800-253-3931.

"If they wait until they get home and then report it, we usually can't do anything," Eveler said.

Hagle was satisfied by the poll manager's handling of the situation, but she was concerned that she had to use two machines. Still, she's not worried about the second-to-worst-case scenario.

"If I voted twice for them?" she said. "Good."

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service