Thursday, November 13, 2003

The essential paradox of voting machines

What is the essential paradox of computer touchscreen voting? The essential paradox of computer touchscreen voting is that there is absolutely no way to confirm the fairness of the result produced by the machines without having them create a countable and counted paper record of each voter's voting choices in a form that can be confirmed as accurate by the voter at the time of the voting. This paper record, and the fact it has to be collected, safely stored, and then counted, looks exactly like the old-fashioned paper ballot and counting process, leading one immediately to the conclusion that the machines have added nothing to the process. Why spend millions of dollars on the machines and their constant maintenance if you could accomplish the same thing with some paper ballots and ballot boxes? The voting machine companies are well aware of this paradox, which is why they have put up so much resistance to having their machines create paper records. Once they create paper records that have to be counted, the machines are obviously just glorified ballot printing machines, with the additional hassle of an extra counting process to ensure that the results are fair. To put it another way, if we had started with computer voting machines, and some genius came up with the idea of replacing them with paper ballots and ballot boxes and hand counting of ballots, that would be regarded as a major improvement in the whole voting process, being all at once more secure, cheaper, and easier.