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Boulder's brilliant step back
By David Harsanyi
Denver Post Columnist  26 August 2004

Here's a textbook example of how government operates:

A substantial portion of the population believes that our balloting system is flawed.

The government solution? Make the system more convoluted and less resistant to fraud.

In 2000, some Democrats in Florida had a tough time dealing with a simple punch card and ended up voting for a Reform Party candidate who many Republicans would admit had certain subtle fascist tendencies.

So, instead of simplifying the voting process and creating a verifiable ballot system to avoid a repeat of the ugliness, we're being pushed to embrace a problematic touch-screen system.

Electronic ballots have been rushed to the market to pacify calls for voter reform. It's a big mistake.

Electronic ballots can be miscounted as easily as paper ones. In fact, with computerized voting, it's only a matter of time before some smart-aleck teenage hacker puts a Libertarian in the White House so he can buy pot legally.

A preemptive strike at voter confidence in these systems has already been fired. Greenwood Village-based CIBER, for example, which produces many of these machines, has been outed as a hive of GOP supporters.

By donating to campaigns, these employees haven't done anything illegal, of course, but we all know Republicans can't be trusted.

Since plenty of people have comparable views about their Democratic counterparts, we all need to agree on a sensible solution.

For the first, and perhaps only time, I turn to Boulder for the answer.

Boulder has come up with a technological solution that is astonishingly trouble-free and, for the most part, resistant to fraud.

It's called a paper ballot.

"We don't believe touch-screen voting is secure," explains Boulder County Commissioner Paul Danish. "I am personally uncomfortable with it, as are a large number of our constituents. And it's pretty clear this stuff is not ready for prime time."

Danish, who was perfectly happy with the punch-card system previously used in Boulder, doesn't point to conspiracies for his reason, though he admits that concern exists in Boulder.

The commissioner points to widespread reports of computer problems with the new machines. Boulder is only doing away with punch ballots because of a congressional mandate to do so.

A review committee in Boulder, made up of representatives of the major and minor political parties and a slew of other experts, was convened.

They decided on a system called Hart Ballot Now, which scans each ballot to create a digital image.

Boulder County Clerk Linda Salas says that with this system, you can project the ballots on a screen to review.

"Our county did not want any kind of electronic voting system at the precinct level," says Salas. "They wanted to vote a ballot and it into the ballot box, because there is less ability to have failures in the system."

One of the only complaints about the new system is the slow result times.

Danish says one of the major objectives here is to maintain people's confidence in the system. Getting results in a reasonably timely manner is certainly part of that.

But he's not getting hung up on the media's need to report early. And anyway, nobody in the media would argue that it's better to be first than to be right (as if Boulder's results in the national races are ever in question).

"People certainly want results as they become available," says Danish. "It's kind of a tradition in this country. But the fact is, this isn't a race between counties to see who gets there first with the results. It's to see who gets there more accurately."

Danish is right. Keep it simple. Paper ballots work. And a slower result is still better than a 36-day recount.

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