Published in Tikkun magazine:
Hand Counted Paper Ballots in 2008
By Sheila Parks
The right to vote, as well as the principle of “one person, one vote,” are cornerstones of our democracy. The anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights movements as well as the expansion of voting to young people are all part of the history of electoral reform in this country. Equally fundamental is the assurance that each voter knows that her or his vote counts and is counted as intended. At this time in our history, many have lost confidence in our voting system.
The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and at least six contests in the mid-term elections of 2002, raised many questions about fraud and electronic voting machines. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) established by HAVA, and the Carter-Baker National Commission on Federal Election Reform were all created after the 2000 election to improve the electoral process. All of these efforts, however, have been detrimental to the prevention and detection of election fraud and error due to their advocacy of the use of electronic voting machines. One election reform advocate, Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, provides a particularly vivid glimpse into the scope of the problems associated with electronic voting machines. She notes that, at a special Texas meeting of the Carter-Baker Commission, “I asked a member of the Panel why they [the Commission] had not asked a single question about how hacks can be done. He said it is not necessary to understand how the system can be compromised in order to protect it.”
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its nonpartisan September 2005 report on elections states in its conclusions: “Numerous recent studies and reports have highlighted problems with the security and reliability of electronic voting systems…the concerns they raise have the potential to affect election outcomes.”
Currently there is no government agency that regulates the voting machine industry in the United States. Roughly 80% of votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and counted on machines manufactured by two private companies, Diebold and ES&S (Election Systems & Software, Inc.), both controlled by registered Republicans. There are two principal types of machines now in use: (1) touch-screens (DRE – Direct Response Electronic), on which no audit or recount is possible because they have no paper trail and (2) optical scans, which use paper ballots for the vote but are counted by central tabulators (particularly susceptible to fraud).
Although several bills currently pending in the U.S. House and Senate, introduced by both Republicans and Democrats, propose changes to electronic voting machines, as do HAVA, the EAC and the Carter-Baker Commission, none consider hand marked, hand counted paper ballots (HCPB) as a possible solution. Most of the proposed legislation advocates for what is variously called a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), a voter verified paper trail (VVPT) or a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB). A discussion of the nuances between and among these systems is beyond the scope of this article, but all share a potential weakness – namely, there is no way to prevent hacking of electronic voting machines later in the process, whether a voter receives a record of how she or he voted and/or whether there is a paper trail in the machine. Mandated random audits of the vote raise the question of whether the audit will really be random and bring back flashes of Florida in 2000 and a long drawn out struggle. Will the Supreme Court again put a non-elected person in office as president of the United States?
April 12, 2006
Published in Tikkun magazine: