For Electoral Trust, Keep the Paper


I’ll admit that in darker moments I wonder whether the General Assembly agreed to get rid of the Master Lever (which allows a voter to pick everybody in a party with one mark the ballot) — delaying implementation for one election — because leadership knew that digital electoral equipment would be coming online with its own advantages for insiders.

To be sure, the changes actually planned for the election in November aren’t as bad as they might be.  We’ll still be voting on paper, but the machine will transmit the data wirelessly rather than through dial-up.  (Dial what?)  On the other hand, people will now be able to register to vote online, and the state will be testing out an “e-poll book” system that will handle check-in through tablets and (presumably) the Internet, rather than using an actual book that voters have to sign.

The process is important here.  A cynic might wonder whether somebody in state government will be able to keep an eye on votes in real time (with the new ballot scanners) and also watch the list of who has voted across the state, enabling them to drop hints to political friends who needs to be prodded to the polls where.

In the long run, though, I’m still with Glenn Reynolds on the value of paper:

Voting systems rely on trust. Voters have to trust that their own vote is recorded and counted accurately; they also have to trust that the overall count is accurate, and that only eligible voters are allowed to vote. …

The problem is that electronic systems — much less the Internet-based systems that some people are talking about moving to — can’t possibly provide that degree of reliability. They’re too easy to hack, and alterations are too easy to conceal. If the powers-that-be can’t protect confidential emails, or government employees’ security information, then they can’t guarantee the sanctity of voting systems.

Yeah, folks in the news media and those really invested in the out come of elections (like me) are addicted to watching results in as near-real-time as possible, but we shouldn’t be the top priority on election day.  If it takes a whole day, week, or more to produce an election outcome around which everybody is absolutely confident that the process of voting (at least) was fair, accurate, and traceable, then we’ve got the time.