Don't fear electronic voting machines
by Michael Trice
Democracy needs to evolve with technology for the health of our nation and its founding principles.
Up until two weeks ago, I worked for one of the four major providers of electronic voting machines in the United States. I left to go to graduate school and write the great American novel, not because of the industry.
Democracy needs to evolve with technology for the health of our nation and its founding principles. The freedom electronic voting allows for disabled voters, for certified and responsive voting and for accountability must not be dismissed because of our fear of change. All this means that House Bill 3894 represents the worst in reactionary political rabble-rousing.
As introduced by Fort Worth representative Lon Burnam, HB 3894 attempts to undo the federal Help America Vote Act passed in 2002 to overcome all the issues that arose from the 2000 election. The 2006 election, with nationwide use of electronic voting machines, went along with nary an issue involving controversy arising from the security or vote marking performance of the electronic voting machines used. In fact, for those who see all electronic voting machines as work of the great right-wing conspiracy, recent elections seem to dispel the force of the myth.
Yet the screams for retrograde action remain constant, so let us consider the cost of such action.
HAVA, when passed, came with federal funding to allow all counties the ability to replace their existing voting machines. Burnam's bill possesses no such funding. Maybe Tarrant County has the ability to afford a switch in voting systems without missing a beat, but the last time I looked at some of Fort Worth's decaying infrastructure, I think there existed a few places those extra funds could be spent for improvements.
Other counties may not possess Fort Worth's apparent excess of resources. Smaller, rural counties lack the funds to switch voting-systems without suffering extreme consequences. Where these counties need improvements to roads, schools, healthcare and an aging population, HB 3894 demands more from limited resources. The money must come from somewhere - fear has a price.
Two of the most significant driving forces behind electronic voting originated in the desire to create simple, unified ballots after the 2000 election and to increase independent access to anonymous voting for those with physical disabilities. The butterfly ballots of Miami-Dade and other areas created confusion and a desire for national elections to possess some ability for common audits.
Local counties and states maintained significant control even after HAVA, but certainly electronic voting machines offered far less opportunity for traditional ballot confusion than paper ballots. Ballot design still presented a handful of issues in 2006, pointing toward a need for uniform ballots more than an issue with the electronic voting machines displaying the ballots.
Additionally, electronic voting offers the best, most reliable method of voting for those with severe physical disabilities. Electronic voting machines make use of trackballs, breath tube interfaces and other features that allow independent voting in a thorough manner. Even Burnam recognizes this by providing the option of electronic marking devices for the physically disabled. Apparently, Burnam stops short of considering electronic voting unfit for all Americans.
We must question the validity of our fears. No one wants to claim electronic voting is foolproof, but paper ballots present more issues with "lost" votes and "stuffed" ballot boxes. Burnam's solution is to force every polling place to buy security cameras (even more money for those smaller counties to scratch up) and record the ballot boxes, because we all know how "foolproof" security cameras are by comparison to hacking into electronic machines with unpublished operating systems and classified source codes.
Colorado and California both use electronic voting machines which print a paper record that the voter confirms as they vote. This creates an obvious paper trail that the voter can track. Maybe Burnam should examine the common sense used in other states before imposing an undue burden on this one.