Down for the count

Thomas R. Temin

In the aftermath of the presidential election fiasco, I've heard a lot of troubling ideas floating around. One particularly bad one is abolishment of the Electoral College.

Some observers have focused on the process of conducting elections, calling for Internet or totally computer-based voting. Television commentaries noted the age of some counties' ballot tabulating equipment, as if age alone makes the machines somehow suspect.

But as the dispute over the votes in Florida reached the endgame, the purely mechanical component of the issue centered on the failure of the voting booth devices to make clean holes through the ballots. That sparked the fight over what degree of punched-ness in a ballot constituted a vote.

It all sounded somewhat comical to those who recall when the phrase 'do not fold, spindle or mutilate' was ubiquitous in daily life.

Seems to me that some of those Florida counties ought to sharpen their hole punchers. No dimples, no chads, no ambiguity.

Not enough governments at any level'municipal, county or state'have sufficient experience to guarantee the results of a full-scale electronic vote. Therefore, it's not clear that this application is in government's best interest. At least not yet.

In Florida and other disputed areas, officials have the actual ballots to recount. The holes, partial holes and near holes may or may not have been fair evidence of a vote. But the physical ballots are still available for bipartisan inspection.

Certainly, any form of physical balloting is prone to error and abuse'as the country has seen. Equally certain is that with enough money and technical know-how, you could build LANs sufficiently secure to conduct an election.

But, would we want to? It would be clean, efficient, fast and accurate. The real issue is the public perception of the system's integrity in the inevitable event of a recount. With no physical trail, how would government convince people, not just techies, that no one had hacked or otherwise tampered with the system?

Accuracy is paramount in elections. But equally important is the fundamental and widespread belief that accuracy occurred. That's the challenge for online voting.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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