Take your time

Thomas R. Temin

The worst reason to buy new technology is just to own it.

Maybe that's my natural conservatism, or simply a skepticism of technology that I've acquired after observing the industry from several publications over the last 20 years. I'm an inveterate gadget lover, but when I have something that works, I stick with it.

I recommend this approach to counties contemplating investments in new voting technology. As this issue's cover story by Jason Miller points out, there is a wide range of options available today, from punch card machines that cleanly punch the cards to touch-screen devices that store results on memory modules.

People view the count of last year's votes in Florida with a range of opinions, mostly depending on whether they favored Bush or Gore. But peel away the political catcalls and you'll find certain realities in what happened in Florida, some of which are relevant to the people who bought the election equipment.

Some devices didn't work properly, or the holes would have been punched clearly. The count was closer than the standard statistics of elections, a rare occurrence. So rare that it would be a mistake to arbitrarily toss out punch card systems. On the other hand, the illusion of precisely counted elections was shattered.

The purpose of county election officials is to ensure accuracy and legality at the polls. An election commission that can deliver on that promise can probably do so no matter what the voting system.

Still, equipment does become obsolete and hard to support. Before buying new systems, election officials should review their business practices. They should ask some tough questions. For example:

If the election was divided by less than 1 percent of the votes, could I prove beyond doubt that the count was mechanically accurate?

Is the system I've implemented unquestionably accessible to everyone, including the elderly and disabled?

Are voters in my jurisdiction likely to accept this technology and be comfortable that its results are accurate and secure?

Reliable equipment must be chosen and used in procedures that are transparent, fair and verifiable. It's the only way to keep the electorate's trust.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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