November 12, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

It's the Paper, Stupid

The Associated Press reports that "a hand recount of ballots cast using optical scanning technology gave a Democrat enough extra votes to bump a Republican from victory in a county commissioner's race." According to the article, the scanning system somehow interpreted straight-Democratic Party votes as votes for Libertarians.

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The news will no doubt spark a new round of speculation as to whether a patchwork of such seemingly minor malfunctions could likewise have "tipped" the presidential race. At this point, we believe that's unlikely. The problem is that when you use electronic voting machines without a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), it is impossible to double-check what happened. You can't do a hand recount if there's nothing to recount. You can look at the redundant memories in each machine -- and this should be done in every recount race involving paperless machines -- but that's plainly insufficient.

There are two pieces in today's issue of the NYT that might persuade the casual reader that because there were relatively few malfunctions reported during this election, electronic voting machines in general "work" just fine. But machines without a paper audit trail do not work if you define a working machine as one that 1.) allows the voter to verify his/her choice and 2.) can be audited after the fact.

This isn't about "bloggers v. journalists," "rational people v. conspiracy theorists/tin foil hats," "Democrats v. Republicans," or "red states v. blue states." The integrity of our elections is far too important for that nonsense. If you haven't yet, please stop by EFF's action center and let your representative know you support verifiable elections. The election is over, but it's far from too late to make a difference.


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