New York Times Editorial: How to Trust Electronic Voting
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By The New York Times
June 22, 2009
The House leadership should make passing Mr. Holt’s bill a priority.
Few issues matter as much as ensuring that election results can be
This editorial was published in the New York Times on June 22, 2009.
Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of every vote cast cannot be trusted. In 2008, more than one-third of the states, including New Jersey and Texas, still did not require all votes to be recorded on paper. Representative Rush Holt has introduced a good bill that would ban paperless electronic voting in all federal elections. Congress should pass it while there is still time to get ready for 2010.
In paperless electronic voting, voters mark their choices, and when the votes have all been cast, the machine spits out the results. There is no way to be sure that a glitch or intentional vote theft — by malicious software or computer hacking — did not change the outcome. If there is a close election, there is also no way of conducting a meaningful recount.
Mr. Holt’s bill would require paper ballots to be used for every vote cast in November 2010. It would help prod election officials toward the best of the currently available technologies: optical-scan voting. With optical scans, voters fill out a paper ballot that is then read by computer — much like a standardized test. The votes are counted quickly and efficiently by computer, but the paper ballot remains the official vote, which can then be recounted by hand.
The bill would also require the states to conduct random hand
recounts of paper ballots in 3 percent of the precincts in federal
elections, and more in very close races. These routine audits are an
important check on the accuracy of the computer count.
The bill has several provisions designed to ease the
transition for cash-strapped local governments. It authorizes $1
billion in financing to replace non-complying voting systems, and more
money to pay for the audits. It also allows states extra time to phase
out A.T.M.-style machines, in which voters make their choices on a
computer screen and the machine produces a paper record — like a
receipt — of the vote.
Such machines are more reliable than paperless voting. But
they are still not ideal, since voters do not always check the paper
record to be sure it is accurate. By 2014, machines that produce paper
trails would have to be replaced by ones in which voters directly
record their votes on paper — the best system of all.
The House leadership should make passing Mr. Holt’s bill a
priority. Few issues matter as much as ensuring that election results
can be trusted.
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