Paper Trail

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2004-11-03 Print this article Print

In most cases, voting officials offered paper ballots as a backup to problems with e-voting machines. Benton noted that in some jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., voters were choosing paper ballots over e-voting. He predicted that people would choose paper ballots over electronic, given the chance. "You can feel it and touch it," he said. "People are skeptical of technology." As it happened, this wasnt always the case. In a number of precincts, voter reluctance to use paper instead of electronic voting resulted in lines much longer than they might have been. A number of wire reports said voters in Ohio waited for hours in line, refusing paper ballots because they trusted their e-vote to count but were worried that paper ballots would disappear. Delays in voting, along with a large number of provisional ballots, caused election returns in Ohio to stretch into Wednesday morning.
While most who were involved with tracking e-voting during the election agreed that it went better than theyd expected, they also agreed that voting—electronic or otherwise—needed to be fixed.
The single most common suggestion by those interviewed for this report was that only by finding a way to verify the ballot being cast, and by being able to audit it later, would e-voting be widely accepted. The most common suggestion was that e-voting machines be equipped with a means of providing a paper trail for later recounts. The state of Nevada required such an audit trail during this election, and machines that could accomplish that were provided by Sequoia Voting Systems. Those machines produce a paper tape that can be inspected by the voter, but that remains sealed inside the machine for later audits. Many observers suggest that there will be steps in e-voting beyond the machines used in this most recent election. Randy Flood, CEO of the Commonwealth Policy Institute Network in Washington, suggested that even though e-voting in the United States isnt quite ready for prime time, the real future is the Internet. He said that before that can happen, a number of issues including reach and security need to be solved. In the meantime, "E-voting is the next logical step for citizens to take when they participate in the electoral process in the future," Flood said. "The sooner we begin the debate on its use, the better." For the near future, many eyes are on the vote that was, rather than the vote that is yet to be. The Verified Voting Foundation plans to follow up on e-voting results to determine exactly what happened, how many problems there actually were, and whether any patterns emerge that could indicate where future problems might lie. While the election results are not in doubt, some observers feel that the reliability of the voting process leaves something to be desired. Ultimately, Common Causes Benton said, that means people have to be satisfied that their vote is being recorded, and that in turn means they have to be able to confirm it. "Trust, but verify," Benton said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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