Thursday, March 1

Paper or Plastic? Paper Ballots v. Touch-screen Tallies

It is no secret that Touch Screen /electronic voting machines are fraught with peril for those of us who care about fair voting and transparent accountability, but there is no guarantee that a paper ballot will do it either--after all, fraudulent elections have a long sordid history (and, of course, no one can forget the "hanging chad").

Still, it makes sense to use the easist form of technology that allows for accountability in the event of a recall election. In Iowa, there is such legislation pending in Des Moines. HF Bill 71 has many of the features that voting rights advocates want. From my perspective, the only thing missing is the voter being able to get a receipt for his or her vote.

                    82nd General Assembly
HF 71
A bill for an act making changes relating to voting machines and
requiring that direct recording electronic voting machines used in
the state produce paper records to be verified by voters.

 This bill rewrites the Code section relating to
3 10 requirements for voting machines in use in the state by
3 11 listing the requirements for voting machines generally and
3 12 listing the requirements that apply specifically to voting
3 13 machines that are direct recording electronic devices (DRE).
3 14 The bill requires that a DRE device be capable of storing
3 15 an electronic image of each ballot cast which can be
3 16 reproduced in cases of a recount, manual audit, or machine
3 17 malfunction. The bill also requires that a voting machine
3 18 that is a direct recording electronic device be capable of
3 19 producing a paper record for review by the voter before the
3 20 voter's ballot is cast. The bill further provides that the
3 21 individual paper records and the ballot images are to be
3 22 preserved by the county commissioner of elections for 22
3 23 months following federal elections and for six months.

1 comment:

NL Voter said...

It's true, there is nothing magically fraud-proof about paper ballots.

Paper ballots are, though, the most practical, reliable form of voter-verified paper record.

If you add printers on to the direct-recording electronic machines, the voter-verified paper records are on a continuous reel of flimsy, thermal paper. The reels are quite difficult to recount by hand compared to paper ballots.

These printers for the DRE touchscreens have lost votes due to printer jams, as demonstrated in Guilford County, North Carolina in the November 2006 election, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in the May 2006 primary election, and in testing done in California in 2005.

Touchscreen devices are fine, if they are used to mark a regular paper ballot, as with the Automark system used in over 20 Iowa counties. A blank ballot, the same all voters use, is inserted into the machine, and a voter can use the touchscreen to make her choices, which are then marked onto the ballot. The ballot can be ejected into a privacy sleeve, so a pollworker can assist a voter with dexterity disabilities in removing the ballot without compromising the voter's privacy.

The printers, as called for in HF 71, were once thought to be the answer. We are learning that is just not the case.

Your point that fraud with paper ballots is a time-honored tradition is well taken. That's why paper ballots are only the first step to verifying elections. You have to have a ggood chain of custody for all election records, which we do for the most part in Iowa. See the Brennan Center report on voting system security. Page 15 has a good example of a very strong chain of custody.

The scanners that tabulate paper ballots are also vulnerable to error or fraud, so there have to be automatic hand audits in randomly selected precincts. As the Brennan Center folks say, without an automatic routine hand audit, the value of the paper is highly questionable. Which is another reason to choose paper ballots over reel printers; since election officials should always do a random hand check, you want to use the system most friendly to hand counting.