California Ban

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-08-30 Print this article Print

Recently, states such as California have banned new purchases of touch screen machines that lack the capability to print a paper record of each vote for the voters inspection. Nevada plans to have voting machines of this type in place for the November elections. Florida election officials have so far rejected the cost and complexity of adding ballot printers. Besides, a state law passed in reaction to the aborted recount in the 2000 election prohibits manual recounts. Meanwhile, Ion Sancho, a supervisor of elections in Floridas Leon County, is actively encouraging voters who are concerned about the touch screen user interface to vote absentee. Although he picked an optical scan, rather than touch screen, system for his county, he has a personal reason for worrying about voting machine problems. In 1986, he lost a county commission election partly because the mechanical voting machines his county used at the time had been improperly programmed (with levers and switches, rather than software, but the effect was the same). He ran for his current post in the next election and won.
While absentee ballots present their own challenges, the laws on how they should be handled are well-defined and election administrators have experience with them, Sancho says. "Much of the debate over e-voting technology, I will say, borders on the hysterical," he adds. "The problems that come back to haunt us are not generally major problems; theyre small, cascading problems."
But even small problems such as absentee vote coffee stains and user confusion-whether from paper ballots or electronic ones-could cause big headaches, given a tight Florida race that could once again hinge on a few hundred votes.
Wholesale fixes may have unintended consequences. LEAVE A TRAIL
Keep track of what you do. PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE
Give distrusting users a backup way to get things done. CHECK OUT PLAN B
Backup systems may have their own weaknesses.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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