November 29, 2007,  4:56 pm


Say No to Computerized Voting Machines


By The Editorial Board


The 2008 presidential election is fast approaching and some states are still using unreliable paperless computerized voting machines.


That is a big mistake. The danger is too great of votes being recorded wrong — or stolen.


Touchscreen machines — which resemble a bank ATM — are simply too prone to glitches like “vote-flipping,” in which votes for a candidate are recorded for his or her opponent. And it is too easy to plant malicious software that changes votes without anyone noticing.


Many states, but not all, now require their touchscreen machines to produce a “voter-verified paper trail” — a paper record of the vote that a voter can review, which becomes the official ballot. These paper records can be audited, to ensure that the recorded vote totals are correct.


Voter verified paper trails are an improvement, but the best solution is to avoid touchscreen voting machines entirely.


New York State is in the process of choosing a new generation of voting machines. It should reject electronic voting machines and go with optical scans.


With optical scans, voters make their choices on a sheet of paper, marking them the way they would a standardized test. The paper ballots are then read and tabulated by a computer.


Optical scan voting is more reliable than touchscreen voting because the paper ballots are the official ones — if there is a dispute over an election, they can be counted again, by hand if necessary.


With touchscreen electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper trail, there is nothing to recount.


Optical scans are also far less expensive than touchscreens. That means localities can buy more machines, keeping lines at the polls shorter.


Touchscreens are so expensive that if New York adopts them it will be all but guaranteeing longer lines than usual on election day. That depresses turnout and makes it harder for some voters — especially working people who vote during peak hours — to cast a ballot.


More than 100 computer and social science faculty from across New York State have just signed a letter urging the state to use optical scan voting. The letter points out that touchscreen software is usually kept secret by voting machine companies. Voting machines should be controlled by the public, not by private interests.


The professors are right. New York should adopt optical scans, and states that have ATM-style electronic voting should switch to them.


Copyright 2007  The New York Times Company