Supposedly the disputed 2000 Florida election, when the presidency dangled by a hanging chad from poorly punched paper ballots, taught us a lesson. And the lesson lawmakers drew from it, in the Help America Vote Act of 2002, was go high-tech, and scrap the old punch-card voting machines in favor of optical scanners, touch screens and computerized vote counts.

There’s mounting evidence it may have been the wrong lesson, the recent Maryland primary being a case in point.

Maryland is a well-educated, well-to-do state with a Republican governor and Democratic legislature relentlessly scrutinizing each other for hanky-panky and many jurisdictions that are models of good, clean government with an alert and engaged electorate.

Nonetheless, thanks to a new electronic voting system and the overwhelmed poll workers who operated it, the Sept. 12 primary, if something short of a shambles, was hardly confidence-inspiring. As of Friday, the Democratic outcome in one congressional district was still up in the air as officials hand-counted thousands of provisional paper ballots.

That prompted the GOP governor, Robert Ehrlich, to call for scrapping the new $106 million system and to threaten a special session of the legislature to bring back the paper ballot.

Some electronic poll books, which replaced the old paper voter-registration rolls, crashed and needed to be rebooted. Some failed to transmit the name of a signed-in voter to all the machines at the polling place, meaning that the voter theoretically could have voted more than once. In some places, the machines failed to transmit their data from the polling place to the central office where the results were to be tabulated.

And the machines had help. In one county, the polls were late opening because officials forgot to distribute the cards that activate the machines. In another, officials forgot to remove the memory cards locked in the machines that record the backup data. Some cards sat in the machines unattended for days after the election.

On Nov. 7, more than 80 percent of all voters, pursuant to federal law, will vote electronically, many of them in precincts using the machines for the first time. Come Nov. 8, Ehrlich may not be the only governor calling for a return to paper ballots.

And, too, we seem to recall that one country had good luck with purple fingers.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)


  1. There was a move to have international oversight of our election process and it was shot down. I think this may be the only way to insure there’re no shenanigans come next election. Also, I know that in this advanced age of telecommunications and electronics that there are still quite a few people without internet access, but here’s a tool that would allow the voter to submit his or her vote without having to go to the polls. Send this info to an independent committee, or even better, an international website. This may be somewhat naieve, but we should start thinking along these lines to bypass the pathetic and corrupt manipulation of our electoral system that allowed the Bush cabal to steal two elections.

  2. I’m a software engineer who worked on terminals for about 5 years. My opinion is that although it is possible to create a good, secure computerized voting system with proper procedures to support it, the paper ballot has a number of advantages:
    1) It is cheap.
    2) It is presently the most reliable and accurate method of voting.
    3) We already know the correct procedures to reduce fraud; they were worked out nearly a century ago.
    4) It can be deployed now (the system described above is at the present time purely hypothetical).

    So I favor paper ballots. At worst, we wait a few days for the results.

  3. But..But…But…if modern republicans had to actually face a FAIR contest, WITHOUT manipulating the entire MEDIA from top to bottom, and run in an ACTUAL election with PAPER ballots, they couln’t WIN ANYTHING.

  4. There should be one and only one system for voting nation wide so there will be complete uniformity. Everyone should be voting by marking paper ballots. If that means it might take longer to arrive at the totals, so be it. What is most important that we have good, verifiable elections with every vote properly counted. And while we’re at it, we should do away with the Electoral College system.

  5. Paper has proven reliability and complete verifiability. In my area, there was a simple, nearly foolproof method of dealing with paper ballots that wouldn’t scan properly, and it required nothing more than a small committee of election workers who reviewed these ballots, darkened in areas that were too light to read, watched each other carefully, and simply rejected ballots that were unreadable or unjudgeable for one reason or another (and there were very few).

    Screw Diebold. Let them make ATMs and leave balloting to paper. The devil with punchcards. We’d all be better off with simple pencil-and-bubble ballots.

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