“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
— John 3:20
All of us should absolutely want accountability and accuracy in our elections. But is completely returning to the Paper Age the best way for us to do that?
Retired Col. Conrad Reynolds of the Arkansas Voter Integrity Initiative thinks so. So does the Cleburne County Quorum Court (or most of it), which has already bought into switching from electronic ballots to paper ballots and hand-counting. And several others in support of moving away from voting machines also attended the White County Quorum Court meeting Tuesday to try to sway justices of the peace here to also go that direction.
The problems that they see are that voters don’t trust the voting machines so they don’t vote as much; the company that provides the voting machines, Election Systems & Software out of Nebraska, isn’t transparent enough; and we can’t read the code used by the machines to confirm that our votes are actually being counted correctly.
Even though this paper ballot movement was stirred up by Donald Trump claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, some of the concerns about voting machines are legitimate. Eroding trust in the system does cause some to not believe their vote counts and therefore not vote and whatever system we use needs to be as transparent as possible.
If ESS is not crystal clear about who it is, the technology it uses, its ballots, etc., then the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office needs to either get it to be transparent or we need to move on from it. If you are going to be in charge of providing the voting machines that we use to cast our ballots, then you need to be an absolute open book.
We increase voter confidence in the methods we use when we explain our credentials and how the process works ... thoroughly answering every question that voters have. If the Secretary of State’s Office won’t pursue getting that information out to this state’s voters, then the White County Election Commission should. As a customer of this company, it has the right to get answers.
If we continue using these voting machines, we also need to regularly test their accuracy. This can be done in part by having voters use both paper ballots and electronic ballots at random voting sites to make sure the results are the same.
We may not can read barcodes, but that doesn’t mean barcodes are evil. It just means we need to take measures to confirm their validity. (The state is likely doing this to an extent, but we have not been told about it, so it’s hard to instill confidence if that information isn’t being provided to the public.)
Accuracy always has been an issue in hand-counting ballots, so going back to doing that with paper (even if it’s improved paper) ballots is not going to fix that problem.
Computers are more reliable “at tedious, repetitive tasks. Humans are bad at them,” MIT Election Data and Science Lab Director Charles Stewart III wrote in The Washington Post. “Counting votes is tedious and repetitive.” Stewart was involved in a study that showed a greater accuracy issue with hand-counting than electronic counting, albeit only using two races.
Going to paper ballots and hand-counting also would make elections more expensive and time-consuming because of the amount of human effort involved.
Of course, expense and time shouldn’t be more of a concern than getting elections right, but we shouldn’t have to scrap voting machines in order to make sure we are getting them right, especially when that could lead to greater inaccuracy. We just may need to further tweak the system.
White County uses iVotronic machines that give voters a chance to review who they have chosen and provide a “paper receipt” that displays their choices. However, Reuters.com says that only “about 23 percent of registered voters live in jurisdictions that primarily use ballot marking devices, machines that allow voters to make their selections electronically and also produce a paper record that can be scanned by another device.”
Reuters.com says that close to 70 percent of American voters “live in jurisdictions that primarily use hand-marked paper ballots” that “are usually counted by an electronic scanner” or sometimes by hand. It says using “hybrid voting systems – paper ballots tallied by electronic machines – could give voters greater confidence.”
We don’t have to revert all the way back to the Paper Age, with unreliable hand-counting, to secure our elections, since it potentially would make them less secure, but what the push against voting machines should show us is that we need more answers and assurances about our voting process in the Computer Age. If we can’t get those, then maybe we do need to unplug from the machine. Going full-on political Neanderthal should be our last resort, though, not our first option.
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