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Holt: When it comes to voting, a paper ballot system is a must

ballot062209_optNew Jersey congressman's bill would require voter-verified paper ballot and random audits

Rep. Rush Holt recently reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, landmark legislation that would create a national standard of voting to help ensure that every vote is recorded and counted as intended. The bill would require paper ballot voting systems accompanied by accessible ballot marking devices and require routine random audits of electronic voting tallies. The bipartisan bill has 75 cosponsors.

"It is time we stop using elections as beta tests for unreliable electronic voting machines," Holt said. "The ability to vote is the most important right as it is the right through which citizens secure all other rights. Voters shouldn't have any doubts about whether their votes count and are counted. Congress should pass a national standard ensuring that all voters can record their votes on paper and requiring that in every election, randomly selected precincts be audited."

In every federal election that has taken place since the Help America Vote Act was enacted in 2003, citizen watchdog groups have gathered and reported information pertaining to voting machine failures. In the 2004 election, more than 4,800 voting machine were reported to the Election Incident Reporting System, from all but eight states. In the 2006 election, a sampling of voting machine problems gathered by election integrity groups and media reports revealed more than 1,000 such incidents from more than 300 counties in all but 14 states. And in 2008, the Our Vote Live hotline received reports of almost 2,000 voting machine problems in all but 12 states.

While many states and counties have addressed verified voting on their own — jurisdictions serving 10 million voters moved to paper ballot voting systems between 2006 and 2008 alone — in 2008, 19 states (7 complete states, and some number of counties in approximately a dozen other states) conducted completely unauditable elections.

Paperless electronic voting seems more modern and many election officials like it, but it is entirely unverifiable and unauditable. Because voting is secret, only the voter can verify that the vote is recorded properly, and when the only record of the vote is digital the voter cannot do so. Computer scientists say that computers are unreliable without an independent audit mechanism, and without paper ballots there is nothing to audit.

The 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota demonstrated the importance of verified voting. In that race, approximately 3 million voter-marked paper ballots were counted by hand to confirm the result. Of those 3 million ballots, only 14 did not receive a 5-0 unanimous vote of the bipartisan canvassing board. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie later said that because Minnesota uses a paper ballot voting system, it made it possible to "do the recount quickly, fairly, accurately, and with such a high degree of trust."

"The clear trend is towards paper ballots. In fact, every jurisdiction that has chosen to change its voting system since 2006 has chosen to use paper ballots with optical scan counting. That should be the standard," Holt said.

*** ***

A New York Times editorial Monday urges Congress to pass Rep. Holt's Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act in time for the 2010 election.

Editorial: How to Trust Electronic Voting

ANDY LAGOMARSINO, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 
Comments (4)
4 Monday, 29 June 2009 14:59
RWR
Congress is not interested in ensuring fair elections. They are interested in ensuring their own re-elections. The organizer-in-chief is not interested in fair elections either; that is why Acorn is now incharge of the census - so as to create "voters" out of thin air with more efficiency than merely filing false registrations. Come-on; you're from New Jersey. I shouldn't have to point it out to you.
3 Monday, 29 June 2009 14:53
J P
The Minnesota Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman shows that paper ballots are not perfect either:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/2008/campaign/results/mn/recount/ballots/
2 Wednesday, 24 June 2009 20:25
Steve Hansen
The key is to have paper ballots in a format such that two or three completely independent means of counting can be applied. If the paper ballots have a standard format, with standard locations for the little ovals, then several different kinds of scanners, with different software, can be used. In all cases, human auditing is necessary. And manual recounts in front of lots of witnesses must be the final mechanism for disputed elections.

In Florida today, after a ballot has been scanned, it is basically illegal for a human to ever look at it. That completely defeats the purpose of the paper ballot -- which is to be audited, and manually recounted if there is any dispute.
1 Wednesday, 24 June 2009 11:56
C Wilson
We agree that paper is better. However, optical scan systems don't show voters how their choices were recorded. They only protect against overvotes. However, digital pen voting, such as PenVote's system, allows a voter to vote a paper ballot and then see how the marks were interpreted alongside an image of their actual ballot.
The question is, are we going to use a paper based system that is 20 years old had has serious design flaws, or are we going to consider something paper based that offers a rich voting experience?? Visit penvote.com for details.

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