Monday, August 6, 2007

Ban All Electronic Voting Machines

By Phil Schoggen and Deborah Narrigan

It was a wonderful breakthrough for expectant mothers who were experiencing nausea. They got great relief from thalidomide therapy and were far more comfortable during their pregnancy. Medical science had achieved a major accomplishment at great expense. Later, however, many of those mothers' babies were born with deformities--no arms, legs, or with other deformities. So we learned that thalidomide, wonderful in some ways, had unacceptable consequences when used against nausea by mothers-to-be.

Now, Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DRE's) like the ones used
in 93 of 95 counties in Tennessee might well be called the "thalidomide of
the voting process." They do a great job of easing the work of running
elections and make election results easy to tally and quick to read. In
addition, many persons with disabilities can vote privately and
independently on DREs.

But DRE's cause unacceptable consequences for the voting process. There is
simply no way to determine whether the intentions of the voters are
faithfully recorded and reported by the machine. Unlike paper ballots that
can be viewed and recounted in case of questions, no meaningful recount of
electronic votes cast with such machines is possible. The only record of
votes in such machines is electronic, stored in the software inside the
machine. Our votes are invisible.
In using these paperless voting machines, we have handed over control of the
voting process to private corporations that manufacture the hardware (the
machines) that contain their jealously guarded trade secret programs and
codes. Counting votes is a task which we should entrust only to the
election officials who serve the public, not employees of corporations who
only answer to shareholders.

DREs, are really computers. Like all computers, DREs are subject to
technical malfunction (crashes, etc.) and willful manipulation (cheating).
Many reports document that vote totals on DREs are highly questionable based
on registration data or exit poll estimates. There have even been cases of
DRE reported precinct vote totals that are larger than the number of
registered voters in a precinct-plainly not an accurate report of the vote
totals. A recent example of another problem comes from Florida where, in
the 13th Congressional district race using ES&S Ivotronic DRE voting
machines like those in many Tennessee counties, the winner's margin of
victory was less than 400 votes. But the DREs reported that 13,000 ballots
showed no vote cast in this race. Yet absentee paper ballots in the same
district had a normal number-at a far lower rate--of such non-votes. But
because the votes were cast electronically, no recount could be done. To
date, this race is still being contested.

Fortunately, a paper ballot electronic system is available and already
approved by Tennessee election officials for use in our elections--the
optical scan electronic vote counting system. It quickly counts paper
ballots marked by voters. Then these paper ballots drop into a locked ballot
box and are stored by election officials for possible recounts or audits of
the vote totals. Such machines have been used in many states. In
Tennessee, Hamilton County has employed optical scan machines for the past 9
years. Persons with disabilities who find filling out a paper ballot
difficult or impossible, can use a special device to mark their ballot and
their ballots are then counted by the optical scan ballot counter.

Another advantage of the optical scan system is that it is a much faster
system of voting. One optical scan machine can count an average of 60 votes
an hour, while DRE's take 5 minutes or longer per voter, or 12 or fewer
voters per hour. Many voters can be filling out paper ballots at the same
time and then have their vote counted and saved in seconds. Thus voters
avoid the long lines experienced during the last election where each voter
had to wait a turn on the limited number of DREs assigned to the precinct.

Another and very important advantage of using the paper ballot with optical
scan vote counting system is cost. This system is less expensive than DREs.
Last year, our counties spent millions of dollars for the paperless
electronic machines. But, having sacrificed the integrity of the voting
process, such voting machines should be banned. Of course, this proposal is
expensive, but the sanctity and security of the voting process is too
important to allow these untrustworthy machines to render our elections
questionable, either through machine malfunction or willful manipulation.
Voter Verifiable Paper Ballots are now required by law or executive order in
some 30 states. Tennessee should join this enlightened group.

Our very democracy is at stake! Ban these paperless electronic voting
machines and replace them with paper ballots and electronic optical scan
paper ballot counting systems.
Deborah Narrigan is the spokesperson for Gathering to Save our Democracy and
Common Cause Tennessee. Phil Schoggen is a professor emeritus at Cornell
University and Nashville resident


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