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Electronic voting beats levers, punch cards

By CATHY COX in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Published on: 08/25/04

There's a significant threat to the integrity of the upcoming presidential election — but it's not electronic voting.

Four years after the Florida recount, more than 22 million registered Americans will use voting equipment that has no paper trail and no audit capability. They're called lever machines.
Even more shocking, more than 32 million voters will use punch cards this November. The verdict on punch cards — taken from numerous academic, governmental and media studies — is in, and it's not a pretty picture.

Error rates are exponentially higher than with electronic systems. They're even worse in low-income and minority precincts.

And here's the kicker: Many of these punch cards will be used in the very battleground states that pollsters tell us will decide the presidential contest — including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

In Georgia, we have evidence from four statewide elections and more than 100 local contests that our new voting platform is more accurate, more accessible to the disabled and, yes, more secure than the systems it replaced. Our error rate has plummeted.

E-voting critics are now targeting the Independent Testing Authorities. These labs, relied upon by the NASA space program, are some of the most respected in America, and have tested voting equipment for years.

Critics claim these facilities cannot be trusted because their work is funded by voting equipment companies and the labs sign non-disclosure agreements with applicants. By that same standard, you'd better throw out your toaster and every other appliance in your house with a "UL" sticker on it — because that's how the Underwriters Laboratories testing system works as well.

The ITA testing system is far from perfect. It evolved because the responsible federal agency — the Federal Elections Commission — refused to design or fund voting equipment testing, leaving local election officials to develop an alternative that is less than ideal, but enormously better than what preceded it. I strongly support efforts under way to strengthen — and fund — new standards and a national testing process second to none.

But it's important to know that the work of the ITAs is only the beginning, not the end, of the testing pipeline. Georgia requires a second critical step — state certification, which is performed for us by the Kennesaw State University Center for Election Systems.

This intense testing regimen takes months to complete. We perform additional tests on each unit before every election.

Like most complex endeavors, improving elections requires a culture of continuous improvement. But Georgians should take pride that here, there's no chance that hanging or pregnant chads might determine the outcome of another presidential election.

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