Paper ballots + computerized voting = no real progress

Be sure to read the commentary by Bruce O’Dell, below:

Paper Ballots Are A Step Backward

8/31/2006 – Chautauqua County has never had trouble with voting
machines going awry and throwing elections into the courts. Nor has
New York state, for that matter. The accuracy and the ease of use of
the mechanical-lever machines have not been an issue. In fact, the
simplicity and dependability of these machines have earned them
something that is absolutely essential in our republic: citizen
confidence that the heart of our democracy, voting and elections,
work as they should.

Under pressure from the federal Help America Vote Act, this very
adequate and dependable way we vote has to change – and, we learned
last week, become more expensive.

The federal act requires New York, and every state to switch to
something electronic. The choices are optical scan – essentially an
old-fashioned paper ballot system that uses a computer to read and
tabulate each individual ballot marked by a voter with a special pen
– and touch-screen computer systems, which seem to be prone to
security issues.

Read more.

Commentary by Bruce O’Dell:

The author has a point; the 2001 Caltech/MIT Voting Project’s study on the
accuracy of voting systems showed that lever machines had the lowest
residual vote rate and “margin of error”, followed closely by hand-counted
paper ballots. See here for an in-depth analysis of the report’s findings – it’s a
fascinating article published by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

The key finding of the 2001 report is that all attempts to improve the
voting process through computer automation have measurably decreased
accuracy. In fact, when you look at factors such as party-line voting, the
accuracy of lever systems and DREs may even be overstated. If so, the
evidence may support hand-counted paper as the most accurate of all known
methods for tallying votes.

One interesting findings is the apparent higher cost of hand-counted paper
ballots is more than compensated for by total cost of ownership of the
electronic alternatives. Of course, when the overriding concerns of
accuracy and security are factored in, there’s no question that the
deployment en masse of electronic voting technology will be viewed by
historians of technology as an epic blunder unprededented in the annals of
my profession.


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