Paper or Diebold?

By DALE McFEATTERS

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)SHNS.com)

18 Responses to "Paper or Diebold?"

  1. BrzlFrbr  September 25, 2006 at 7:02 am

    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.

  2. Insight  September 25, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    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.

  3. Liberty  September 25, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    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. Fred Page  September 25, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    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.

  5. grant  September 25, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    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.

  6. Neil Gorter  September 25, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    Why not use the everyone vote by mail system used in Oregon. It is both reliable and cheap.

  7. Fred Page  September 25, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    @Neil Gorter-
    The main problem with vote by mail is that it makes vote buying somewhat more effective.

  8. ebbtide  September 27, 2006 at 2:46 am

    Paper. There is no substitute. With people like Rove involved in the electoral process you can not verify enough.

  9. cheap tramadol  October 23, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    cheap tramadol

  10. South Point Man  September 23, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Poorly punched?

    Well, duh, use better quality paper and better punching devices.

    But paper it is. Or parchment. Or colored stones. Or bits of broken potsherds with a symbol marked on it. Anything that is physical and can’t be manipulated to show false results like electronic voting machines can.

  11. Irene  September 23, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    Voting absentee for the foreseeable future is preferable at this point. Certifying your mailed ballot might also be worthwhile.

  12. carol  September 23, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Well said South Point Man. Paper ballets and HONEST peopele to count and tally them as well as save them.

    Screw Diebold!!! Crash and burn!!

  13. Rice Farmer  September 24, 2006 at 1:42 am

    It’s said that elections are decided by who counts the votes, not who votes. And electronic voting helps make this a reality.

    Paper ballots!

  14. Arlo J. Thudpucker  September 24, 2006 at 2:22 am

    Unless and until the integrity of electronic voting machines may be assured, the nation must use alternative means for casting and recording votes.

    Paper would work just fine, if there were no viable alternatives.

    The best machine available for voting is the 80 year old lever style machine. It is strictly mechanical, and may be locked and sealed.

    In addition to utterly reliable mechanical counters, it imprints each vote on a wide roll of paper, very much like blank wall paper, which is in the rear of the machine.

    The roll may be removed and reviewed if any questions should arise.

  15. JohnK  September 24, 2006 at 4:43 am

    Actually, paper ballots were fine. The problem was with how they were validated. The correct way is to run the ballot through a machine that counts the vote and verifies the ballot immediately after it has been voted. If there is a problem then that ballot is scrapped and the voter has a chance to vote again with a fresh ballot.

    In my area we mark ballots with indelible ink and they are counted and verified electronically. I’m a physicist with thirty years experience with technology and that suits me just fine. Computerized information is too easily modified.

  16. Kiki  September 24, 2006 at 9:56 am

    VOTE ABSENTEE BALLOT!!!!!!!!

  17. erika morgan  September 24, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    I really think we have a responsibility to give up our secret ballot until we have had a chance to QC the tallies for the foreseeable future. I want a system that returns to me two receipts of how my vote was counted. One of these I would use as my personal check that my vote tallied as I intended. The second receipt would be turned over to an observer for tallying independently. Any discrepancy of even one vote would invalidate the whole election and it would have to be rerun period.

  18. carol  September 24, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    erika, that’s an idea I’d like to see put into action.
    Double receipts, a double way of tracking.

    Please put that idea out to anyone and everyone around you and try to get support behind it. That’s the best idea I’ve seen here about paper ballots yet.

Comments are closed.