Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hazards of Paper

There was a terrific letter to the editor in Tuesday's Fauquier Times-Democrat, drawing attention to the flawed and hurried nature of two bills in the General Assembly, HB 2707 and SB 840, that, if passed, would have the effect of forcing all Virginia localities to discard their current voting machines and replacing them with optical scan systems.

Written by Robin Lind, who edits the newsletter of the Virginia Electoral Board Association (of which I am a member), the letter points out:

In Virginia alone, these new machines will cost an additional $30 million, for which the legislation looks to the localities for funding. In ensuing years, the cost of printing, transporting and then storing the ballots in the Clerk of the Circuit Court's office has not even been estimated.

People who champion paper ballots and optical scan tabulating machines probably have never dealt with either.

Those of us old enough to remember paper ballots know what a nightmare it was to hand count them, and how easy it was for "short-pencil men" to spoil ballots by the simple act of adding marks from graphite under their fingernails.

Those of us who have seen optical scanners choke up on automatic feeds, or under-count the ballots processed, or reject ballots for no apparent reason, have every reason to be worried about this "dream" solution.
Mr. Lind goes on to say:
The only guarantee of the integrity of the voting system is the integrity of the people involved. These are your neighbors. People who get up at 4 a.m. to make sure your poll is open at 6 .m., then work hard for the next 13 hours until the polls close at 7 p.m.

And then they have to work another hour or two to close the polls, turn in the results and return the equipment. Across the nation, their average age is between 60 and 70.

Ask them what they think of the process. Ask them what they think of their experience with touch-screen voting machines. Ask them what they think of returning to paper ballots. Ask them what they think about the dedication of their fellow poll workers and the integrity of the system.

If legislators had taken the time to query the men and women on the front line, you may be confident the universal answer would have been: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
He concludes (as I do):
We urge citizens to contact their legislators and vigorously oppose this unfortunate legislation.
My views on this issue are well-known and I hesitate to repeat myself. I want to re-emphasize one point, touched on by Robin Lind: the vast majority of electoral fraud in this country is done with paper, either at the voter registration stage or by altering or spoiling paper ballots. There is no evidence from the past two decades of using electronic voting machines that those machines have been compromised, or tampered with, to change the outcome of an election.

Check out the label "voting machines" (below) if you would like to read more of what I have had to say about voting technology.

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