Electronic Voting and Voter Verified Paper Ballots
Even though some U.S. states have been using electronic voting equipment for quite some time with little controversy or accusations of fraud, in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election and the adoption of electronic voting by more and more voting districts, many more citizens have called for an auditable voter-verified ballot to be attached to all electronic voting machines to ensure the accuracy of the election results.

On the surface, electronic voting will not inherently lead to fraud or inaccurate results.  In fact, many other voting systems and ballot designs cannot be relied upon to accurately reflect the intention of the voter. Human voter error is the root cause of many wasted or contestable ballots. In fact, voters who incorrectly or incompletely punched out chads on their ballots caused much of the controversy during the 2000 election. Electronic Voting is one way to reduce human error and eliminate issues voters have faced in past elections.

Electronic voting equipment has three benefits over other forms of voting equipment:
  • Reduces residual votes
  • Accessible to disabled people- allows a disabled voter to cast a ballot in secret
  • Decreases the possibility of human counting error
While electronic voting machines eliminate many of the problems we've seen in past elections, it also creates a host of new issues.

Some worry that electronic voting machines, which are run by computer programs, can be intentionally programmed to change the intention of the voter. Votes are recorded and stored electronically and as a result, unlike punch cards or optical scan machines, there is also no way to perform an independent recount.
One way to overcome this potential weakness is to adopt an auditable voter verified paper ballot.

Voter Verified Paper Ballots:
Many activists in the electoral reform community want to ensure that there is a way to audit an election result and protect against the possibility of electronic voting machine tampering.  For this reason, many believe that there should be a requirement that electronic voting machines print a paper ballot that the voter can verify before officially casting a vote.  This paper ballot will not be a "receipt" for the voter, but instead will be kept by the Department of Elections in case a recount is necessary.


Good Elections Require Accountability, Transparency

By Tom Perez and Rob Richie
Published November 1st 2006 in The Progressive Populist

When Maryland finished counting ballots after its Sept. 12 primary, the finger pointing about responsibility for that day's chaos at the polls began in earnest. Dozens of polling places failed to open on time, others opened without their voting machines working, new electronic poll books kept crashing and after polling hours were extended for an hour in two major counties, even more problems developed based on many poll workers not learning of the extension or how to handle it.

With critical elections for nearly all of Maryland's highest offices expected to be closely contested this November, the Keystone Cops nature of the primary elections was all the more troubling -- and sadly reflective of the state of affairs in our elections nationally. Not only did inept election administration cause hundreds of people to lose their right to vote entirely and frustrate thousands more, it also increased community distrust in the basic functioning of our democracy at a time when participation is more important than ever.

Americans must see their elected officials and election administrators taking bold, clear steps to reassure them that our state can run secure and fair elections. With elections looming just days away, however, immediate drastic changes would be counterproductive. It wouldn't be easy for new county election chiefs to hit the ground running or smoothly handle a massive shift to voting with paper ballots. If Maryland's primary elections tell us anything, it is that our current system cannot handle stress.

What we can do is uphold two fundamental principles of running elections well: accountability and transparency. The blame game among state elections officials, county board chairs, county election staff and various political leaders only increases voter cynicism -- and points to policy changes demanded next year.

Let's start with accountability. We want each county elections director to pledge that they accept full accountability for what happens in November. For the moment, counties are usually responsible for key decisions such as hiring, training and paying poll workers, setting up polling places, establishing systems of Election Day communication and handling breakdowns in electronic machines and poll books.

But we not only must trust, but verify. Every election director should make public in a timely way for public review and comment their county's plan for running elections that addresses any problem exposed in the primary elections and a full checklist of what they plan to do in preparation for November. We need utter transparency for decision-making that all too often is made behind closed doors.

Looking at a concrete example, one of the most astounding breakdowns in our home county of Montgomery in Maryland was with Election Day communication. Once poll workers in dozens of polling places found they didn't have the access cards necessary to start up their electronic machines, many had no clue what to do -- and then were on hold for the central office for half an hour. When polls were extended, many poll workers never learned about it from the county, while others botched the process by failing to allow people in line before the original poll-closing time to continue to vote on the electronic machines. It's hardly rocket science to develop efficient means for people to communicate with one another. A simple requirement that poll workers call in every 90 minutes by cell phone to staff at headquarters will eliminate situations where poll workers are unaware of court rulings extending poll hours.

But much more is needed beyond November. We must review our elections from top to bottom. We should increase funding for such basic systems as obtaining and training poll workers, take steps to protect voting rights and secure voting in city elections, and ask whether new electronic technology for voting and checking in voters has created more problems then it has solved. We should move to new, simpler voting machines that have paper trails and can handle democracy innovations like Takoma Park, Maryland's new instant-runoff voting system.

Resolving accountability is the most fundamental demand. The international model, one last year proposed by a national commission headed by Jimmy Carter and James Baker, is to establish a nonpartisan state elections chief with the authority to direct local elections boards. After appointment by the governor and confirmation by a supermajority in the legislature, this official would have real independence from political pressure -- but strict accountability to standards of performance, combined with transparent processes in place to establish both pre-election and post-election accountability.

Our current decentralized structure is a recipe for mutual finger pointing. In a recent hearing before the Montgomery County Council, the head of the Montgomery County Board of Elections acknowledged "human errors" within her office, but mostly blamed the state for the primary election debacle. Meanwhile, the head of the State Board of Election blames local elections boards and even "the system" for the failures. Does "the system" have a name, a phone number or an office address? Our fundamental problem is not simply human error, but our inability to answer the simple but critical question: "Who's in charge?"

Democracy is not only a goal for export. We must bring it home. Let's start by running better elections this November and then establish clear accountability and transparency through policy changes next year.

Tom Perez serves on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland. Rob Richie is executive director of FairVote (fairvote.org); phone 301-270-4616.