New York Times



Trust in Paper


Published: May 5, 2007


Political experts this week were focused on how the Florida Legislature has advanced its presidential primary to a very early date: Jan. 29, 2008. But the real news, tucked into that same legislation, is that by next summer Floridians should be a lot more confident that whenever they vote, their votes will finally be counted correctly.


Florida, of course, does not have a great history on this score. First there was the trauma of the hanging chads, and everything else that went wrong, in the 2000 presidential election. Then last year, in one of the most closely contested Congressional races in the country, new touch-screen machines somehow lost 18,000 votes.


Representative Vern Buchanan, a Republican, won by 369 votes in a machine recount. But nobody really knows why an extraordinary number of voters in Sarasota County — well more than enough to make the race come out the other way — seemingly failed to vote in the hottest race on their ballot.


The new law will eliminate touch-screen voting in favor of the more trustworthy optical-scanning system. Unlike touch screens, optical-scanning machines are based on paper. Voters mark a paper ballot, much like a school achievement test, which is then counted by computer.


And here’s the most comforting part: that paper ballot remains, and can be counted in a recount.


There are still, unfortunately, too many states that have not made the leap back to paper that Florida has. This means is that on Election Day, the nation will still have a patchwork of secure and insecure ballots across the country. What is needed is for Congress to pass a bill being pushed by Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey. That would give every citizen in the nation the confidence that there is tangible evidence — a hard copy, if you will — of every vote.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company