Hand Counted Paper Ballots in 2008
By Sheila Parks

Monday 10 April 2006

The right to vote, as well as the principle of "one person, one
vote," are cornerstones of our democracy. The anti-slavery,
women's suffrage, and civil rights movements as well as the
expansion of voting to young people are all part of the history
of electoral reform in this country. Equally fundamental is the
assurance that each voter knows that her or his vote counts
and is counted as intended. At this time in our history, many
have lost confidence in our voting system.

The presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and at least six
contests in the mid-term elections of 2002, raised many
questions about fraud and electronic voting machines. The
Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, the U.S. Election
Assistance Commission (EAC) established by HAVA, and the
Carter-Baker National Commission on Federal Election
Reform, were all created after the 2000 election to improve the
electoral process. All of these efforts, however, have been
detrimental to the prevention and detection of election fraud
and error due to their advocacy of the use of electronic voting
machines. One election reform advocate, Bev Harris of Black
Box Voting, provides a particularly vivid glimpse into the
scope of the problems associated with electronic voting
machines. She notes that, at a special Texas meeting of the
Carter-Baker Commission, "I asked a member of the Panel
why they [the Commission] had not asked a single question
about how hacks can be done. He said it is not necessary to
understand how the system can be compromised in order to
protect it."

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its
nonpartisan September 2005 report on elections states in its
conclusions: "Numerous recent studies and reports have
highlighted problems with the security and reliability of
electronic voting systems ... the concerns they raise have the
potential to affect election outcomes."

Currently there is no government agency that regulates the
voting machine industry in the United States. Roughly 80% of
votes in the 2004 presidential election were cast and counted
on machines manufactured by two private companies,
Diebold and ES&S (Election Systems & Software, Inc.), both
controlled by registered Republicans. There are two principal
types of machines now in use: (1) touch-screens (DRE - Direct
Response Electronic), on which no audit or recount is
possible because they have no paper trail and (2) optical
scans, which use paper ballots for the vote but are counted by
central tabulators (particularly susceptible to fraud).

Although several bills currently pending in the U.S. House and
Senate, introduced by both Republicans and Democrats,
propose changes to electronic voting machines, as do HAVA,
the EAC and the Carter-Baker Commission, none consider
hand marked, hand counted paper ballots (HCPB) as a
possible solution. Most of the proposed legislation advocates
for what is variously called a voter verified paper audit trail
(VVPAT), a voter verified paper trail (VVPT) or a voter verified
paper ballot (VVPB). A discussion of the nuances between
and among these systems is beyond the scope of this article,
but all share a potential weakness - namely, there is no way to
prevent hacking of electronic voting machines later in the
process, whether a voter receives a record of how she or he
voted and/or whether there is a paper trail in the machine.
Mandated random audits of the vote raise the question of
whether the audit will really be random and bring back flashes
of Florida in 2000 and a long drawn out struggle. Will the
Supreme Court again put a non-elected person in office as
president of the United States?

Although much has been published on the Internet, the
mainstream media have mostly chosen to ignore or dismiss
the questions of fraud and error raised in relation to electronic
voting machines. Notable exceptions are discussions by Keith
Olbermann on MSNBC's "Countdown" and Mark Crispin
Miller's article "None Dare Call It Stolen" in Harper's Magazine,
in which he strongly suggests that the presidential election of
2004 was rigged, much of it by electronic voting machines.