Volume 13, Issue 38 ~ September 22 - September 28, 2005


For Voters, Paper Trails Mean Happy Trails

Jimmy Carter will go down as a decent president and a true environmentalist — even if we can’t help seeing him wearing bad sweaters as he lectures at us from the pulpit.

Former Secretary of State James Baker was a shrewd operator and President George H.W. Bush’s Mr. Fix-it. Got a very big problem? Want to meet an Arab prince? Call Baker in Houston.

Together, Carter and Baker carry a truckload of political experience, which is why we need to listen to the recommendations made this week by their bipartisan commission aimed at restoring public confidence in elections.

Maryland needs to pay special attention when these senior statesmen speak about the importance of verifiable paper trails in voting.

For reasons that elude us, Maryland rushed blindly into the electronic age and has clung stubbornly to the notion that voters aren’t entitled to a paper record after elections.

As far as we can tell, Georgia is the only other state that allows elections to proceed without a verifiable paper trail. And this week, Georgia Secretary of State Kathy Cox said that she would be “pro-actively exploring options to modify and enhance Georgia’s voting system to provide a voter-verified paper trail that gives voters even more confidence in our voting process.”

It’s not like we’re conspiracy nuts. But we had the occasion to meet Ohio voters who were deeply distressed last year about how that state’s pivotal election was run. Voters there may have been disenfranchised by long lines and manipulation of absentee ballots. And there were questions about the security of some of that state’s voting machines.

That said, we can’t go along with some of the other recommendations the Commission on Federal Election Reform sent to the White House this week.

We agree with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who questioned a recommendation that voters should have a special photo ID. One reason: the ID would cost about $20, and we don’t think that in a democracy there should be any cost to vote.

Nor do we believe in the concept of regional primaries for presidential elections. Our experience tells us that such a system would generate regional campaign-spending blitzes that would do a lot for the bottom lines of television stations but little for the understanding of voters.

Our current system has flaws. But we like the idea of would-be presidents being forced to sit in the living rooms of states like New Hampshire and Iowa and look people in the eye.

We hope that when the winners in those contests appear later on the Maryland ballot, voters can put their trust in paper records that can be collected and counted, rather than in flickering dots on a machine.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.