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Voting safeguards

Vigilance, well-trained workers, new equipment needed

Charlotte Observer Opinion  04 October 2004

The surest way to safeguard the voting process is to get the basics right. That means ensuring voting machines are well maintained, election officials are well trained and poll watchers are vigilant.

But it's worrisome that four weeks from Election Day, voting could still be compromised in the same ways it was four years ago. Election reforms remain elusive, despite promises politicians made after the hanging chads, manual recounts and other problems tainted the presidential vote in Florida and elsewhere.

As reported in Sunday's Observer, most N.C. voters will find themselves using the same machines they used in 2000. Some will still use punch cards that can leave the dreaded hanging chad. And the lament of U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., is one we share: "We're running some risk this fall of going down the same paths we did in 2000."

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, pledging to avoid such a repeat. But federal money to states to help buy new voting equipment and databases was slow in coming.

York County and 14 other S.C. counties used the federal dollars to get snazzy, ATM-style machines, but many states won't have new machines in place and working until 2006, the federal deadline. That's North Carolina's goal.

Another concern has also complicated the voting reform process. Some experts are uneasy and urge caution about the security of paperless computerized voting, the favored replacement for punch card and lever machines. They say a voter-verified paper trail is needed to ensure a voter's choice is correctly recorded. They also say it's essential for recounts. Some places are now using or considering paper verification.

Those problems and complications leave voters pretty much where most were last election using antiquated machinery and depending on the integrity and diligence of elections officials to ensure the sanctity and security of their votes. Getting those basics right remains the most vital component of safeguarding the voting process.

The promised reforms are needed. It must not take another four years for them to become reality nationwide.

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