Friday, April 08, 2005

Electronic Voting - Visibility on the Rise

Bloomberg presented a great summary today of the concerns and progress on the e-voting issue. Quoting:
After two tight presidential elections in a row, each producing complaints about voting machinery, proponents say a paper trail is the only way to convince voters that elections are safeguarded from technological defect or high-tech fraud.
Missing, however, is the fact that having paper means nothing if the paper ballots are not also automatically counted, to some degree, to verify the machine counts.

I had a discussion with some activists today re electronic voting here in Los Angeles County. Conny McCormack, the County Registrar, has been vocal saying that there is nothing to fear from electronic voting, but that she'd "vociferously" object to being forced to purchase machines that give a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). Sounds like she's talking out of both sides of her mouth. If there's nothing to fear from the machines, then there should be nothing to fear by auditing them via paper ballots. What's the problem? Time, and money. The county needs to purchase machines soon to comply with HAVA. But McCormack has been defensive of Diebold in the past. California right now can only allow the purchase of machines by Sequoia, a competing vote machine manufacturer. Is McCormack objecting to the VVPAT because Diebold doesn't produce one yet and therefore can't enter the market? McCormack is recommending the County stay with Inkavote, an optical scan system. But optical scan systems are still tabulated by computer and still vulnerable to fraud.

It's not enough to have paper ballots, even voter verified paper ballots, unless some portion of the paper is counted regardless of who won and by what margin. An unaudited system is one begging for fraud to walk in the front door.

There are some benefits to the newer, direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, which can provide ballots in multiple languages and are more accessible to people with disabilities. As the Bloomberg piece notes:
Advocates for disabled voters also are unhappy, saying the emphasis on paper ballots undermines efforts to let people with visual, physical and other disabilities vote without assistance. Voters with disabilities now often need help from poll workers, so their choices aren't secret.

The technology used is not the key issue, although it is important. The key issue is that whatever system is used MUST be verified through a percentage-based hand-recount done on a surprise basis. Nothing less will assure people in the next election that their votes were counted accurately.


Blogger John Hill said...

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