Monday, October 05, 2009
What do voting machines, laser speed guns, and parking meters have in common?
by Larry Geller
Answer: You can’t be sure they are properly calibrated.
Ian Lind weighed in on the speeding conviction that the Hawaii Supreme Court just struck down: Speeding case raises questions about prosecutor’s behavior. Ian reported,
The court found prosecutors failed to present evidence to establish that the radar guns used by police have been properly calibrated and tested according to factory guidelines.
Instead, they relied on testimony by police officers that they had tested the devices and everything was working fine.
My take on that testimony: sure. I can only guess, but the laser speed guns may seldom, if ever, be tested at all. If that’s the case, then the city will have learned a valuable lesson as speeding cases are thrown out. It doesn’t matter if Peter Carlisle thinks the judge was wrong. Until the laser guns are tested according to specs and any applicable laws, they shouldn’t even be used.
Every so often an anecdotal report pops up on the Web about someone who got a parking ticket thrown out because of a local rule or law that the meters be calibrated. I don’t know the law in Honolulu or Hawaii. In some of those reports it was argued that a parking meter is a piece of computerized measuring equipment that has to be calibrated, the same way a gas pump or supermarket scale has to be calibrated. I use a little parking meter that rings to let me know when I have to get back to the car, and I’m pretty sure that one day I did get back to my car and found two minutes still on a meter that should have had zero. I could have set my timer wrong, I guess. Was that meter calibrated properly, if at all, and is it a requirement?
For voting machines in Hawaii there is an administrative rule covering testing, and it applies to all computers used for elections:
§2-54-4 (b) (5) The official logic and accuracy test shall be performed on all computers to be used for elections; [Hawaii Administrative Rules, Chapter 54 Voting Systems]
Anyone wanna bet on whether every computer is tested? I’ve been told that only a sample are tested, but I don’t have the last word on this. I’m really just thinking out loud here, this article wouldn’t win any prizes for investigative reporting.
If any poll people know the answer to the voting machine question, though, I’d be curious to have your comments. I’d ask Kevin Cronin, the Chief Elections Officer, but he has enough headaches these days without a new challenge to deal with.