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Editorial: Put It on Paper

Election snafu points up problems for all-electronic voting

Dallas Morning News   November 11, 2004

For seven days, a paperless voting machine sat mute. It refused to tell Collin County elections officials and observers what votes it had recorded at Rose Mary Haggar Elementary School on Campbell Road.

The touch-screen machine locked up during voting Nov. 2 and was taken out of service. Election night, despite coaxing from technicians, the machine would not divulge results from 63 voters.

Officials gathered around again six days later, on Monday, but the machine wouldn't budge despite the best attempts by experts from the manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems.

They met again the following day. County elections officials reported they had sent the machine's memory card to Diebold laboratories in Canada so technicians there could attempt to extract the numbers. They reported that attempts were successful and that the results were finally in.

The mere fact that a piece of Collin County's election record left the country should be cause for concern.

We have called before for the county to heed the reasonable and widespread call for a verifiable paper record of every vote cast. The experience of the Haggar Elementary voting machine ought to point up the obvious pitfalls of this type of electronic voting machine.

Collin County spent $2.7 million to buy 700 of the touch-screen machines last year. Nov. 2 was the big test, with more than 154,000 voters heading to the polls.

Defenders might say that in view of all the activity and votes cast on Election Day, malfunction of only one machine in only one location is strong evidence of the system's reliability.

Look at it this way, though: Imagine a tight, contentious race going down to the wire. Say it's neck and neck with all precincts counted ? but one. And say that one precinct has one stubborn paperless, touch-screen voting machine that won't say what votes it counted.

Picture the candidates waiting days, then finally looking over the shoulder of a computer technician who says a memory card just shipped in from Canada contains the vital numbers.

Regardless of the outcome, controversy results. It would be terribly difficult for either candidate to accept such an ambiguous outcome.

Collin County voters deserve a method of voting that allows for paper recounts.

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