“Poll tape draft”

This isn’t such a huge issue for Ventura County voters. Not only are we doing a mail-in election because of the pandemic, in-person voters are using paper ballots that get placed into ballot boxes, just like in your 6th grade class president election.

But other states are still using machines proven to cause serious problems. How serious? Gore vs. Bush serious. Bennie Smith, a software developer in Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis, was contacted by a candidate after losing an election they felt they should have won in their Black and Democratic majority district. For years, the winning candidates were overwhelmingly white and Republican. Who was electing these people?

These confounding results were the source of numerous lawsuits. Bennie, though well-versed in computer programming, did something old-school to solve this mismatched mystery. He photographed the poll tapes from a high-density precinct and compared them to the numbers quoted by the Elections office. There was a 40% difference. After a judicial ruling and the “retirement” of the elections official involved, the winning candidates finally reflected the actual votes…

(Oh, and Bennie is now an elections commissioner.) How do these kinds of shenanigans occur? Well, it appears to be a feature, not a bug.

OMG! – This is crazy. How can I help?

I DON’T live in a state with all mail-in elections…

If you have the skills to find election results posted online and match the numbers with the numbers on poll tapes, you can help with this — even if there are no poll tapes posted in your community. Contact any of these groups to volunteer to help with analysis, which will happen after the election: 

I have friends and family who live in states with in-person voting and voting machines….

Do you have friends and family in the following states? Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Ask them to be poll tape photographers! FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO SIGN UP AS A VOLUNTEER: Protect Our Votes – Photo Finish
The whole process of photographing tapes takes about an hour.

How do I (or a family member) volunteer to take pictures or videos in a state is using in-person polling places with voting machines?

  • If you live in the following states (Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin; sign up as a volunteer for Protect Our Votes – Photo Finish
  • If you’d rather take videos, upload them to Actual Vote, an app designed by  Democracy Counts that must be downloaded to a smart phone. You can use an iPhone or an Android.

I’m ready to be a volunteer photographer!

Before E-day: Follow the instructions of the group you’re with. If you’re starting your own group, or doing this on your own, your can use these tips.

  • Email your local election official to politely inform [him/her] that you or your election integrity volunteer group will be photographing poll tapes, which is an activity guaranteed by state statute, and which will also help [him/her] assure the public of the accuracy and security of the election. (Find your local official here.)
    • Include a copy of your state’s statute regarding this activity in your email. Your election official may or may not be familiar with the statute, but they will assuredly be annoyed if you make them look it up.
      • (Find yours here. All election access statutes here and here.
      • State laws regarding recording here.
      • Guidelines for avoiding legal trouble here.
    • Request that [he/she] inform all the precinct inspectors to cooperate with your volunteers, who will either
      • arrive no more than 10 minutes before the poll closes to photograph the poll tape copy as soon as it’s removed from voting machines
      • arrive after the poll closes. Volunteers will photograph the tapes, which should be accessibly fastened to the door of the polling place.
      • In either case, volunteers will not interfere with of the precinct’s closing processes.

Getting ready:

  • Locate all your polling places. If you’re working with a group, divvy them up. If there are too many for you to get to before the polls close, go to the ones in the densest areas first, or places that have historically had contentious outcomes.


  • Get to the polling place no more than 10 minutes before they close.
  • Introduce yourself to the precinct inspector and explain what you’re doing. Wear a name card around your neck, or a badge, if you can. Wear neutral clothing. Give them a copy of your state’s statute to read and keep. Print it out in large type if you can. Then stand out of the way until after closing time. Do not interact with voters.
  • Ask the inspector to let you start photographing the extra poll tape copies as soon as they are removed from the machines. While you may have tables or walls to use in regular room lighting, don’t get in the way of their poll closing activities. You may not finish before they’re ready to leave, and then you’ll need to take your process outside, while they lock up.
  • Ask the inspector if you can help place the tapes outside as you finish with them. At polling places we ran, we were told to tape the top of the tape to the exterior door with painters tape, and roll up the tape and rubberband it.
  • If the polling place is already closed up, the polling tapes may not be posted flat nor be well lit. Poll tapes are often posted near the main entrance, but sometimes taped behind windows. There may be more than one. Look around for any poll tapes that may have fallen or been blownaway by wind.
  • You can check with the election office as to how many poll tapes should be there and compare that with what you found.

Doing it:

  • Practice making still photos or videos on this practice tape for videographers.
  • Bring a friend and a flashlight in case the illumination at the site isn’t strong enough for clear photos, painters tape with very light stick (DO NOT DAMAGE A TAPE!) and rubber bands, in case the election official wants them all rolled up when you’re done.
  • Keep your camera parallel to the polling tape. This can be quite a challenge if the tape reaches the ground, but do the best you can! Your partner can pull up the tape and hold it still for you, or you can painter-tape it to the door or wall.
  • Make sure the photo of the top of the tape, with all the polling place information is clear. Try to get the tape to fill your screen, so the information is as large and clear as it can be.

Try to center each contest within a shot with identifiable overlap between each image as you work your way down. Here’s the presidential contest with parts of both the precinct count from above and the senatorial contest below.

  • Go ahead and make your own recording of polling tapes even if you see or suspect someone else may already have done so. Independent recordings help corroborate each other.

Finish off your night with reporting:

  • Share your photos/video with one of the groups involved in this project.
  • To image and upload poll tapes on your own (without signing up with a particular group), you can use one of these tools:
    • Protect Our Votes – Photo Finish
      • Mark the SUBJECT line with your STATE – COUNTY. Attach the photos with the precinct # on top – (1) precinct per email.
    • Actual Vote app: for iPhone/iPad and Android. Best to use if you prefer to take video rather than still photos of poll tapes (volunteers report this is easier). Created by DemocracyCounts.
    • SeeSay2020.com web application, which you can access from your smartphone or computer without downloading an app. Can accept photos or very short videos (multiple videos OK). This is the one we showed you with the map. 
  • You also have the option to find the county results when they’re announced and compare the totals on your own.

I’m much more interested in elections now than I expected to be. Where are my people?

Join the Scrutineers at Scrutineers.org.

What can happen if no one’s watching? Oh, you mean like before Bennie Smith got involved?

This video is from Black Box Voting, founded in 2003, which is a nonpartisan investigative reporting and public education organization for elections.

The independence of Black Box Voting comes from support through citizen donations — always needed and very much appreciated! Please take a moment to become a patron by setting up a much-needed monthly sponsorship — or make a very important single donation: Click HERE.

You may be wondering what the term “black box” means. A “black box” system is non-transparent; its functions are hidden from the public. Elections, of course, should not be black box systems.

Influential reporting by Black Box Voting is referenced worldwide. Here is a link to a free copy of the book, Black Box Voting: HERE. Author Bev Harris became known for groundbreaking work on electronic voting machines, which can remove transparency of the vote count; other important reporting pertains to voter lists, election chain of custody, transparency problems with absentee voting, election industry corporate governance, and financial accountability in elections. 

Opaque, non-transparent voting can afflict voter lists, poll lists, vote counting and chain of custody; political finance can also be “black box.” The road to better transparency begins with knowledge and public, grassroots dedication. I am glad you are here!

Bev Harris

Contact information: 206-335-7747
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PO Box 72 Carlsborg WA 98324