[EM] Re: touch screen voting machines

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Tue Nov 11 15:20:06 PST 2003

Lost in all this discussion is the incredible ease of the ballots which
you fill in with a pen.  They aren't easily degraded the way punch-cards
are.  The "chads" can't fall out accidentally.  There's a paper backup
kept in the custody of election officials for the purpose of recounts. 
The technology is used millions of times every year for standardized
tests, including such high stakes tests as the SAT, ACT, AP tests, GRE,
etc.  It's much harder to manipulate the result because there's a hard
copy backup.

I recall controversy over the chads, and over poorly designed layouts on
pen and paper ballots, but I don't recall any intrinsic difficulties with
filling in the ovals.  The only problem was that the ovals were laid out
in a confusing manner in one county.  That's different from the chads,
which some people found intrinsically difficult.

Since tampering with the machine can be detected by a visual inspection of
the pen and paper ballots, the only way to manipulate the outcome is by
having dead people vote, having corrupt precinct workers wink at "stuffing
of the ballot box", etc.  And these problems ultimately come down to human
honesty, a factor that no technology can remedy.  Even if we used better
database software to remove dead people from voter rosters and put
surveillance cameras at the polls to monitor possibly corrupt poll
workers, a human has to examine the video recording of the polls and a
human has to supply the data for the roster.

So my vote is for pen-and-paper ballots like on the SAT.  I just hope this
vote is counted ;)


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