Volume 14, Issue 4 ~ January 26 - February 1, 2006


Election Perfection:
Paper Trails Make Smooth Sails

With Maryland’s most exciting and consequential election in many years just around the corner, we ought to do everything possible to make sure people have confidence in how their votes get counted.

The General Assembly can instill flagging trust in the election process by approving legislation that requires a paper trail in electronic voting.

We know a lot of Marylanders who lost faith in the ballot box after Florida’s vote-counting debacle in 2000. Four years later, shenanigans in Ohio, where the presidential election was decided, did little to restore confidence. Our own legislature is polarized about whether new rules on when and where to vote opens the door to fraud. Nationwide, confidence in the integrity of the vote is so low that the two- three- or four-time-voter has gained the power of an urban legend.

(With votes so valuable, we can’t understand why more people don’t use the one they’ve got.)

The hanging-chad mess in Florida triggered a movement to rid voting booths of punch-card voting, which we applauded.

Then suspicions were aroused when a top executive for Diebold, Inc. — the company that makes electronic voting machines used in Maryland and many states — wrote a fundraising letter vowing to help George W. Bush win the election. What were people to think?

Fear of unscrupulous vendors or of computer hackers undermining elections pushes the nationwide movement demanding paper trails in electronic voting. Thus far, 26 states have either passed laws or issued administrative orders requiring paper verification.

Unfortunately, Maryland is not among them.

That’s why we’re hoping the General Assembly wastes no time approving legislation requiring a paper record from electronic voting machines.

Using technology now available, the machines would print what amounts to a receipt enabling voters to see in black and white how they voted.

You couldn’t take the receipt with you. Why? Because it would encourage vote-buying by street-corner partisans offering, say, $10 for proof that you supported their candidate or cause.

But those receipts would be locked up as old-fashioned proof that we aren’t tricked by 21st century electronic gadgets or the people who programmed them.

If the past is any guide, skeptics will point to the infallibility of computers or the cost of making them spit out paper. Nonsense.

At a time when our country invests heavily in democracy around the world, we shouldn’t stint on making sure that ours at home works as smoothly as possible.

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