February 04, 2005

Election Reform is Urgent

The irregularities, machine failures, paperless ballots,
disenfranchisement, lack of transparency, and a host of other issues in
the 2000 and 2004 elections underscore an electoral crisis that needs to
be fixed right away. Americans are losing confidence in the integrity of
our electoral system, and with good reason.

The Washington recount taught us some important lessons. First of all,
counties that used black box electronic voting machines had no way to
recount or validate their vote totals. We have to take their results on
faith. At the very least, machines should produce paper ballots for a
manual recount and for routine audits of results. It is extremely
disturbing to see proposed legislation (HB-1025) moving the deadline for
requiring electronic voting machines to produce a paper record of all
votes back from 2006 to 2007. Furthermore, this legislation would permit
the substitution of auditing software for an actual paper ballot. This
approach makes the problem worse, not better. What we need instead are
machines that produce paper ballots and a system to routinely audit the
results by comparing the machine results to the paper ballots in
randomly selected areas. If there is a significant difference, then more
investigation will be required, up to a full manual recount.

These machines are also lacking in security measures. A credit card
transaction on the internet is protected much better than our voting
machines. Voting machines are in many cases connected by modem.
Experienced hackers could obtain access by calling the modem. A small
group of hackers, or a single individual could alter the results in
hundreds of locations by as many votes as they thought they could get
away with. We donít know if this has actually happened but if it did, we
might never find out.

Second, there are counties still using punch cards. Punch cards are
notoriously prone to error. Voters have a hard time verifying that they
actually voted the way they intended. Hand counted paper ballots used to
be used everywhere and provide the greatest confidence in the integrity
of the system. Optical scan ballots are easy to mark and easy to read.
Voters can verify that they didnít make any mistakes before they turn in
their ballot and they can be easily recounted if necessary. Of course,
as with any voting system, there ought to be a routine audit as part of
the certification process to make sure that the count is accurate.
Machines are limited in their ability to interpret votes that any person
would understand instantly. For instance, a voter unfamiliar with
optical scan might circle their choice rather than fill in the little
blip or a punch card machine might leave a hanging or a pregnant chad.
The right to vote should not be denied due to a computerís limitations.

Third, there ought to be a guarantee that absentee ballots and
provisional ballots are actually counted. We saw during the recount that
these ballots are treated very differently in different counties. No
registration or vote should be disqualified without notifying the voter
of the problem and giving them an opportunity to correct the problem.
Provisional ballots were intended to insure that all voters will have a
opportunity to vote and have that vote counted. When a provisional
ballot is needed, it should trigger an investigation of what went wrong,
so that voting and registration procedures can be improved.

We call ourselves the greatest democracy in the world. We owe our
country no less than to make it so.

(Dan Goldstein lives in Port Townsend and is a member of Concerned
Voters of Jefferson County)

(Originally published as an Op-Ed in the Seattle Post Intelligencer)

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