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Iowa: Ames Straw Poll Holdup Shows Why Paper Ballots Are Best PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
August 13, 2007
Reported problems with one of the paper ballot scanners used in the Ames Republican Presidential straw poll reveal that touchscreen voting machines, on the defensive nationally and on their way out in Story County itself, are no match for voter-marked paper ballots.

“They had a problem with the voting equipment, and they had individual, durable paper ballots to ready to count by hand,” said Sean Flaherty, co-chair of Iowans for Voting Integrity. The Ames straw poll used only paper ballots counted by optical scan equipment. “Problems with election equipment always happen. Paper ballot systems offer the best backup.”

Iowa counties use either touchscreen direct-recording electronic machines, or DREs, or paper ballots that are marked by the voter and optically scanned. Story County, which provided the equipment for the poll, has both systems, but is phasing out the touchscreens and replacing them with a ballot-marking device that helps a voter with sight or other disabilities mark the same type of paper ballot used by other voters. The county provided only the ballot scanners for the straw poll.

By November 2008, Iowa law will require counties that use touchscreens will have to have at least fit the machines with a reel-to-reel printer under transparent glass for the voter to view her choices on paper.

“If they had used touchscreens with a paper trail printer, the hand count would have taken much longer,” Flaherty said. “And if the printers had jammed, they really would have had trouble.” The continuous roll of paper used for the DRE machines is cumbersome to recount by hand. Paper trail printers have failed as well, losing votes and forcing officials to trust the electronic count.1 And it is uncertain if every voter actually checks the paper trail. “When you have a recount, having a voter-marked document, like they did last night in Ames, is better for voter confidence than a secondary printout.”

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, having completed a top-to-bottom review of voting systems used in her state, has decided to limit the use of touchscreen voting machines to one per polling place, and she will require 100% manual audits of paper trails.2

“Iowa counties have a choice of buying paper ballot systems, or paper trail systems, by 2008. Tonight provided a great example of why paper ballots and optical scan are the best choice.”

1 http://www.ncvoter.net/downloads/TouchScreen_Paper_Trail_Failures_Problems_News.pdf
2 http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting_systems/ttbr/diebold.pdf
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