E-Voting, With a Paper Trail

Nevada's Sept. 7 primary was the first official election in the US using touch-screen voting that also produced paper copies of individual votes. The system, called "Veri-Vote" by the California company that makes it, was deemed a rousing success.

Perhaps inadvertently, Nevada's success will help squash much of the controversy over the reliability of electronic voting machines. Though states are moving toward e-voting - approximately one-third of voters are expected to use such digital machines on Nov. 2 - many types of them still aren't error-free.

Too many show vulnerability to hacking or software glitches. A paper trail remains the best interim step as states make their glacial efforts to comply with Congress's 2002 Help America Vote Act (a result of Florida's ballot snafus in 2000).

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The Veri-Vote system creates a paper record under glass that voters can check against their choices on the screen. The copies eventually drop into a lockbox, where they can be used later if a manual recount is needed. Extra printers were available on election day in case of a malfunction.

For ballot count accuracy, e-voting is better than many paper-based systems. In fact, some 32 million voters in 19 states still will use the less reliable punch cards on Nov. 2. And many of those will be used in states deemed hotly contested.

Florida has adopted paperless e-voting but Broward County - home to the most hanging chads in 2000 - isn't allowed to attach printers to its machines yet. In Maryland, a judge ruled that new touch-screen machines don't need paper records. E-voting machines in Delaware, Tennessee, and Kentucky also will be paperless.

As obvious as it may sound, the ability to properly record and count all votes must remain a priority for states. Even with the sad memory of Florida, too many have simply dragged their feet on this subject for too long. More should follow Nevada's example.

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