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Indiana elections need a voter-verified paper trail

By TAMMY BARNETT Special to the Evansville Courier & Press
December 1, 2004

Editor's note: This is the first of two Community Comments by Tammy Barnett, one of two individuals appointed to oversee the review of voting equipment used in Vanderburgh County for the Nov. 2 election. Her second installment will be published in the coming days.

I've often taken my right to vote for granted, but that changed this year as the news focused on countries preparing to hold their first elections. It also hit home again last weekend when I watched "Iron Jawed Angels," a movie about the women's suffrage movement. It is a powerful reminder of the many sacrifices people have made so that everyone can have a voice in our elections.  
Because elections are the key to our democracy, we must ensure that our voting equipment is accurate and reliable. If we insist on the safeguard of gambling machines for the gaming industry, we should demand no less from our voting equipment. The certification process of electronic voting equipment merely tests that the machines function properly. It does not rule out potential software glitches, nor does it safeguard against intentional tampering. Because election equipment is manufactured and serviced by private companies, the software is proprietary, and therefore is not disclosed to governmental authorities. This privatization of our elections forces voters to give up control of the very system their tax dollars support to private companies that, because of their management's conflict of interest, are not objective participants in the process. For example, Walden O'Dell, CEO of Diebold, a voting equipment company that has sold equipment to counties in Ohio, wrote that he was committed to delivering Ohio to Bush in this year's election. As one of Bush's top fund-raisers, O'Dell was listed in the elite "Pioneer" category for campaign assistance. This type of partisan action by companies receiving taxpayer money to record and tabulate our votes makes us question the integrity and reliability of electronic voting equipment. Another problem with electronic voting is that it does not allow a true recount. With Vanderburgh County's machines, a recount would merely be a reprint of the first report the computer generated. Because there is no paper trail, our current system does not offer grounds to question election results or perform any type of honest recount. We would have no way of knowing if ballots with a straight party ticket were being inadvertently tabulated for the Libertarian candidate, as occurred this year in Indiana's 9th District. Fortunately, the 9th District was able to catch this error because there were paper ballots to recount. Some might argue that with all these problems we should abandon computerized equipment. It might be a tempting remedy, but it would eliminate some of the advantages the new technology provides. For example, since electronic equipment can display ballots in large type and can also include audio prompts, it can make voting easier for those with visual impairments.

Instead, we should perfect the technology by implementing safeguards to protect the integrity and reliability of the equipment. An effective way to do this is through a voter-verified paper trail. With a voter-verified paper trail, just before a ballot is cast, the machine would print a receipt of the ballot behind a Plexiglas screen (similar to an ATM receipt). The voter would then verify the receipt is correct before leaving the polling booth. If the vote isn't correct, as Election Systems & Software (the company that manufactured the equipment used by Vanderburgh County) explained, the voter can push a button to divert the receipt into a reject bin. If it is correct, it goes into the ballot storage area. The receipt does not identify the voter and the voter at no time touches the receipt, so confidentiality and security are not issues. To check the machines' reliability, several precincts can be randomly ed for a hand count of the receipts to ensure the vote totals match the computerized totals. If they do, communities will have confidence that machines tabulated votes according to voters' intentions.

States already mandating a paper trail include Illinois, Washington and California. At least 20 more states are considering similar legislation. Let's hope that Indiana will follow suit to make the best use of technology - taking advantage of its benefits, while safeguarding against its potential problems. If this occurs, Vanderburgh County will be in good shape since, according to ES&S project manager Gary Olson, its machines are already equipped with a printer port.

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