Counting votes

Thomas R. Temin

In the passion of the weeks following the disputed presidential election results in Florida, cries were heard from all directions for state and local governments to invest in new voting technology.

I won't reiterate the arguments and counterarguments that ensued, but from a technology standpoint they boiled down to whether tabulators were skipping votes. Perhaps we'll never know, but clearly there's a better way than trying to read people's minds, as Florida's human hand counters were asked to do.

Where I live, Montgomery County, Md., each voting booth is equipped with a hefty punching apparatus that makes holes decisively. That's fairly low-tech.

A more high-tech approach is a LAN equipped with touch-screen terminals, which were used in California's Los Angeles and Alameda counties. The terminals' software requires voters to confirm their selections and lets them make changes before finally giving their OK.
But information technology comes with its own baggage, some technical, some cultural. On the technical side, jurisdictions have trouble fitting an entire ballot on a single screen.

THE CULTURAL CONCERN is voter mistrust. You can see and examine punch cards and tabulating machinery. That's not so with networks and applications. Plus, people are aware that viruses, hacker attacks and data corruption occur frequently. Why, they'll reason, should voting networks be any less vulnerable?

If they ask those questions, your jurisdiction will need to have the answers.

Internet voting, studied in California and used in limited fashion during Arizona's primaries, carries even greater'perhaps insuperable'anxieties about security, voter authentication, vote-buying and improper influence.

States and counties are taking many tacks. This issue of GCN/State & Local devotes the 50 States section, on Page 9, to election technology. The newspaper's staff found that many sites still use pencil ballots and hand counts.

The challenge for you is not finding the best technology but finding an electronic approach that voters will accept.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Email: editor@postnewsweektech.com

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