Reliable ballots

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

With all the problems with certain kinds of paper ballots in recent elections, it is understandable why so many election officials favor improvements that make final tallies simpler and more dependable. As officials look for those dependable vote-casting systems, there is a natural tendency to turn to modern technology. As a result, computerized voting systems are favored almost everywhere.

Keep in mind that the punch-card system that created havoc in the 2000 presidential election performed well in some areas, including right here in Cape Girardeau County. But the trend to computerized voting systems is growing, both to improve reliability and to speed up the counting process.

One system being tried around the country is a touch-screen system similar to many ATM machines used by banks. But some voters -- and some voting officials too -- are concerned that touch screens without any paper backup could decrease confidence in how votes are tabulated.

Diebold Inc., one of the nation's largest makers of touch-screen voting systems, has developed a prototype aimed at easing some of the concern. The Diebold prototype relies on touch screens but also produces a paper ballot that the voter never touches. However, voters using the prototype can look at the paper ballot and make changes if there are errors.

Keeping accuracy and reliability foremost has to be the goal of any voting system. Old-fashioned paper ballots where voters marked an X next to a candidate's name were reliable, but the counting process is slow and tedious.

The move to electronic voting appears to be inevitable. The first order of business is to make sure it works.

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