Sunday, October 14, 2007

Touch Screen Voting Machines

Much was made of the 2000 Florida hanging chad endless recounts. It was a real problem and it was amplified by repeated handling of the punch cards. Each time the card was handled for a one of the repeated recounts, the potential for dislodging chads increased. The recounts, therefore, had the potential to change the outcome of the election, and thereby the will of the people. It is an outdated system and needed to be changed.

In many ways the Florida 2000 mess reminded me of the problem NASA encountered during the beginning of the space program. Current pens would not write in zero gravity. So NASA spent something like 6 million dollars to create a pen that did not require gravity to leave its mark. The Russians used a pencil. So too we often out fox ourselves to solve problems.

Florida is one case currently facing a financial headache of monumental proportions. Voting Machines Giving Florida New Headache from New York Times online has the details. Florida has declared the "Touch Screen Voting Machines" cannot be used because they don't leave a paper trail. Without a paper trail, recounts are suspect and therefore have about as much confidence level as the old punch cards.
Across the nation, jurisdictions that experimented with touch-screen voting after 2000 are starting to scale back or abandon it based on a growing perception that the machines are unreliable and concern that they do not provide a paper trail in case questions arise. California will sharply scale back touch-screen voting next year after a review by the secretary of state found it was vulnerable to hackers.
Having served for the past few years as an Election Judge in Cook County Illinois, I have some experience with "Touch Screen" machines. As in Florida, the machines we use are products of Sequoia Voting Systems. But apparently Cook County spent the extra money for the "Deluxe" model, because our machines unlike the Florida machines do have a paper trail. We also have optical Scan Machines for those who prefer a paper ballot.

The value of a paper trail is however, lost on some of the Cook County Voters. Cook County "Touch Screen" machines require on screen approval and an approval of a visible paper trail printing of each voters ballot choices. If at any point in this voting process, even after the printed choices are displayed, each voter is given the chance to make changes.

Interestingly, according to Illinois Law, any voter who leaves before finalizing his ballot is considered a "fled voter" and none of his/her choices are recorded. To Be Counted, a ballot must be inserted and counted by optical scan or by completing and approving the entire process, including the printed paper trail, on a "Touch Screen" Machine. Partially completed ballots are voided and cannot by law be cast or recorded.

Only after the Voter has visually approved both the on screen visual and the printed ballot is the ballot cast. If changes are made during the Printed Ballot process, the Printed Copy is Visibly Voided in Print and must be approved again both on screen and in print before being cast. To most voters, this is a needless process. One value which Cook County Voters have, but most don't appreciate.

As an additional feature and "Touch Screen" advantage, "Over Votes" are not permitted, and "Under Votes" must be approved by the Voter before the machine will allow the ballot to be cast. "Over Votes" indicates that the voter has made too many choices. In this situation, no votes will be counted for that office, but any correctly made choices will be recorded. "Under Votes" indicate that some offices remain unselected. "Under Voting" is acceptable if the Voter specifically approves the "Under Vote". After all, sometimes no candidate is preferable to those running.

Optical Scan Machines also notify the voter of "Over Votes", which then must be approved or remrked by the voter. However, to change an "Over Vote" Optical Scan Ballot, the original ballot is marked "Spoiled", signed by 2 Judges and the Voter must make all his/her choices again. Optical Scan Ballots do not notify the voter of "Under Vote" situations.

Both Systems do allow Write-In Candidate Votes to Be cast. Plus the "Touch Screen" Voting Machines have provisions for the handicapped. There is a Braille keypad, an Audio option and even "sip and puff" for those who need these features.

In order to save some money in Florida, the no paper trail option was a costly choice. My experience with the Cook County "Touch Screen" machines shows that they are quick, easy to use and with the paper trail, less susceptible to voter fraud than other systems. Even the Optical Scan Paper Ballot is not as easy to use, and could be more easily changed after the voter has cast his/her choice.

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