News From Terre Haute, Indiana


April 2, 2014

Faintly, the fine print

Printed boxes on absentee ballots too light, longtime voter discovers

TERRE HAUTE — In the warm sunlight bathing the front porch of Margaret Taylor’s South 14th Street home, faint boxes are barely visible on her absentee ballot for the May 6 Democratic Party primary.

According to instructions on the ballot, the boxes are vital because they are what voters must fill in to have their votes counted for various candidates. Voters must fill in the boxes across from the names of the candidates they support.

However, when Taylor stands up and takes her ballot into her home, the reduced lighting makes the lightly shaded boxes nearly invisible.

“I have a lot of trouble seeing it,” Taylor said. “You gotta really look hard.”

Taylor, 82, a former Democratic Party vice precinct committee person and longtime activist in local politics, has been voting since she was legally eligible, and this is the first time she’s seen a ballot like this one, she said. She worries that the boxes may be difficult for older people or those with weak eyesight to see.

“I think it’s unfair to everyone on that ballot,” she said, adding that other people she has spoken with share her concern.

Dave Crockett, Vigo County clerk, said he sympathizes with Taylor and anyone else who has difficulty seeing the boxes. In fact, when he received the first copies of the newly printed absentee ballots in mid-March, his office immediately contacted RBM Consulting, the Chicago-based maker of election equipment who produced the ballots.

Unfortunately, he said, RBM said the boxes are as dark as the current technology will permit.

“If there was something I could do to darken that up, I’d do it,” said Crockett, who was reached by telephone late Wednesday. “We did try.”

RBM explained that the boxes must be faint to avoid being detected by the optical scanning equipment that counts the votes, Crockett said. If the boxes were colored darker, they might register as votes by the equipment, even if they were not filled in, he said.

Optical scanners detect darkened areas on ballots or other documents, as opposed to infrared technology that detected the graphite used in pencils, according to comput, a computing information website.

This is the first election in Vigo County using the new RBM Consulting optical scanning equipment. The Clerk’s office didn’t see the printed absentee ballots until mid-March, after all candidate filing deadlines were past and the ballot had been proofed, Crockett said.

The State of Indiana approved and certified Vigo County’s absentee ballots in their present form, he noted.

Crockett said he will ask RBM whether any changes can be made in the absentee ballots before the general election in November. “But I can’t promise anything,” he said.

RBM specializes in election equipment and services. It prints more than 7 million ballots annually, according to the company’s website.

New technology always involves some sort of unforeseen problems, Crockett said. “We hope people will bear with us.”

For voters who cast ballots at Vigo County’s new vote centers, the light shading of the boxes will not be a problem because those voters will not be using the absentee ballot forms. Those voters will use new electronic voting equipment.

As for absentee voters – if any – who cannot see the boxes and therefore mark their ballots in the wrong places, Crockett said that is something election officials will deal with if and when it takes place. For a vote to be counted by an optical scanner, the box must be filled in, he said.

“It’s just something we’re going to have to deal with” when the time comes, Crockett said.

According to several news reports from around the country, the most common problem with optical scanners involves voters marking their ballots too faintly to be read. Some close elections have involved hand recounts that uncovered a few ballots marked too faintly for optical scanners to detect.

Meanwhile, Taylor said she will vote despite the faintness of the boxes on her ballot. Under a lamp in her home, she can see them clearly enough to fill in the proper ones.

“I’m going to vote if I gotta use a magnifying glass,” she said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

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