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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Voting Tech on Parade

By Steven Taylor @ 8:27 pm

From the League of Women Voters, here’s an additional summary of the Caltech-MIT study which highlights part of the basic problem:

First, yes, it would be best to get rid of the punch-cards:

Most uncounted or spoiled ballots-called “residual” votes in election parlance-occur in precincts using the infamous punch-card machines. Punch-card machines were used predominantly in Florida in 2000, adding “pregnant” and “dimpled” chads to the national lexicon as a spellbound nation watched Sunshine State officials struggle to determine voter intent on thousands of partially punched ballots.

But, of course, electronic voting is not necessarily a magic bullet:

Some direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines were nearly as error-prone as the punch-card machines, said the Caltech-MIT researchers. DRE is the generic category of machines that count votes directly and electronically, as they are cast, without producing a paper record of the vote.

Although, Florida did see some improvement after they switched: Caltech-MIT Team Finds 35% Improvement in Florida’s Voting Technology :

The residual vote rate, it appears, has been substantially reduced as a result of the election reform efforts of the past year. On average, 2.0 percent of Democratic voters recorded no vote for governor in these seven counties. In past elections, the average has been 3.1 percent. This is a 35 percent improvement in performance.

Although, if you look at the table in the article, you will note that in some counties the improvement was negligible.

But, back to the LWV story,

In the final analysis, the researchers concluded that lever machines, precinct-counted optically scanned, and hand-counted paper ballots accounted for the fewest “lost” votes. Optical scan ballots resemble high-school achievement-test cards, in which a voter blackens in a “bubble” corresponding to his choice. Then the marked ballots are fed into a scanner, where the voter can verify his vote.

Ok, sounds good, but most states are going to DRE’s rather than optical scan, which I agree is pretty hard to screw up (most of Alabama uses this tech-it will spit the ballot back at you if you double vote or otherwise miss-mark the ballot):

The researchers’ favorite voting systems were those that use optical-scan ballots that can be counted at the precinct level, because they allow voters to double-check their votes before leaving the polling place and produce a verifiable “paper trail” that can be used in a recount.

But, of course, the optical scan ballot isn’t the best for everyone:

Unfortunately, optical scan machines present major obstacles for the disabled and for non-English speakers and illiterate voters. The blind cannot use pencils to mark scanned ballots without someone to help them and thus would not be able to cast a secret ballot. Like non-readers and language minorities, the blind prefer DRE technology that has been specially designed with audio capabilities so voters can receive audio instructions and vote verification.

Groups representing the disabled and language minorities have gone to court to block some states that have tried to buy all optical-scan equipment. “As we move to replace old voting machines, it is important that the new machines be accessible to all,” says Jefferson-Jenkins, pointing out that 17 years after Congress recommended that all polling places be made handicapped-accessible, more than half of all polling places are still inaccessible to voters in wheelchairs.

So, while the DRE’s may have their own problems, they more accessible.

In short, there is no perfect system.

Now, I am all for trying to get as close as we can, within reason, but I think that such changes should not be imposed in the middle of an ongoing process.

Plus depending on the numbers, there is a point at which maginal gains in fairness aren’t the other costs in time, money, and the rights of others to be heard.

Filed under: US Politics

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  1. Comment by Anonymous — Tuesday, August 10, 2004 @ 3:31 pm

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