Welcome to the machine
Trust, but verify. Ronald Reagan's famous mantra for arms control applies just as well to the way we conduct elections.
After the 2000 federal election fiasco in Florida, Congress rushed to modernize the way Americans vote. Many states quickly turned to direct recording equipment (DRE) “also known as touch-screen machines” to electronically record, count, and report our votes. Alaska has begun to purchase these machines as well.
In our eagerness, however, we may have inadvertently sacrificed voters' trust in elections, because touch-screen machines don't currently give voters a paper record they can check, and leave with election officials if a recount is necessary. Alaska's current AccuVote system's optically scanned paper ballots provide a reliable back up.
Computer experts worry about the accuracy of DRE machines, and the experiences of many localities are troubling. In Bernalillio County, New Mexico, a programming error caused a computer to 25 percent of the ballots cast by early voters. In Maryland, voters for the Republican candidate for governor watched as their votes appeared beside the Democratic candidate's name.
Given the shortcomings of DRE technology, many observers are calling for voting machines to produce paper receipts that voters can verify before leaving the polling booth and that are subsequently held in lock boxes. The state of California recently moved to require such a voter-verified paper trail in all elections. We've introduced Senate Bill 296 and House Bill 459 to establish the same protections in Alaska.
DRE machines have their benefits, and we can achieve the best of both worlds. Properly equipped DRE machines will enable blind and disabled voters to easily cast a ballot in private.
We are working with other legislators to make Alaska law require that Alaska's current paper ballot machines, which have proven very accurate, remain the primary machine used at polling stations. The new DRE machines will be reserved for those who need them because of visual or other handicaps. As soon as technologically feasible - likely within the next year - we will require that the new DRE machines also produce a voter-verifiable paper record.
Citizens' trust in elections is a bedrock of democracy. Requiring a voter-verified paper trail will assure Alaskans that their elections will be honest and accurate. Please let your legislators and the governor know that you support requiring a voter-verified paper trail in all elections.
Senator Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage
Representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage