Thursday, May 11, 2006

Paper Ballots Last Forever

Touch-screen voting, as implemented by Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia, increasingly appears flawed and vulnerable.

The undergraduate class in systems design used to teach that the role of paper forms and their routings is as important in design as the role of the electronic data flow. In their enthusiasm to provide a paper-free voting booth, the designers of touch-screen systems seem to be following a different principle, promoting the technology they own rather than designing their system to meet the needs of the process.

So here is a spec for a voting system.

First, a vote lasts forever. It isn't just a flash in the dark, to be lost in time, with only the totals remaining. A ballot box needs to be available for recount of the ballots. Recount of the subtotals in the machines is not enough.

To recount a ballot, an image of the ballot is necessary. The image needs to be fixed and unchangeable. The surface on which it resides needs to be molecular material and not re-writeable. Paper appears to be the cheapest stable material for this.

Here's a simple voting system that meets the above specification and more. In this inkless copy system, the voter even gets to keep a copy of her ballot. It's New and Improved!

I voted with a paper ballot the last time I voted. My sheet of paper zipped through a scanner, which identified my check marks and added my votes to its totals. My ballot will last forever, or until historians throw it out.

If my ballot had included an inkless copy page, I could have gone home with a copy of my markings.

Another neat feature would be for the ballot counting machine to print a receipt indicating what sense it made of the ballot. The voter needs a receipt showing her vote as it was tallied. Any errors could be recorded immediately for later resolution.

Those who object to this because every little scanning error would become a federal case miss the point. Misreading of the ballot would become history.

A simple receipt printer that could provide proof that my vote was correctly read and tallied should be an easy add-on. A cash-register printer or an ATM printer would do it well. The technology is stable.

An inkless copy of my vote. And a receipt confirming that it was correctly read. So easy to provide.

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