Opposing the use of computerized voting machines in Missouri has been tough work for e-voting activists. Although Robin Carnahan is aware of the potential problems with them, she recertified them. Here in St. Louis, the county Board of Elections has been highhanded and impervious in its determination to waste our money on computers. (By the way, Missourians for Honest Elections is still looking for pro bono legal help to pressure the state to ban DREs.)
We had a spark of hope earlier in the summer when Phil Lindsey let it be known that he was preparing to launch a petition initiative drive for a constitutional amendment to ban the machines, but that effort has washed up on some shoals. It seems that the petition language that Carnahan approved did not include the words “hand counted” for the paper ballots the amendment would have required. Now, there’s disagreement amongst those planning the petition drive about whether to proceed, knowing that if the amendment passed, the paper ballots would almost surely be counted by optical scan machines–a less dependable method of getting an honest count than hand counting.
At least there is reason for some optimism on this issue at the national level. A new bill that would eventually ban computerized voting machines is being co-sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). The bad news, though, is that the ban wouldn’t be fully in effect until 2012. And besides, it doesn’t mandate hand counted paper ballots.
Still, there is some comfort in knowing that the bill would require random hand counted audits in at least three percent of the precincts. If somebody were monkeying with the optical scan tallies, that large an audit would probably reveal the scam. (A five percent audit would make any fiddling with the results impossible to hide.)
It’s hardly surprising to find a progressive like Whitehouse (who tossed Lincoln Chafee out of his seat last year) sponsoring such legislation. The surprising part is what’s coming out of Florida. Bill Nelson, a DINO (Democrat in Name Only), is Whitehouse’s co-sponsor. And Charlie Crist, the newly elected Republican governor, pushed to have touch screens banned in Florida and got his wish.
But when you consider recent voting problems in Florida, really it’s the logical place for reform to start–even with a Republican governor and a DINO senator. The 2000 election, with its hanging chad/butterfly ballot debacle, led to widespread use of computerized machines there in 2004–when the problem with them became painfully obvious. In Sarasota, an astounding 15 percent of the ballots had no vote in the congressional race. The Republican candidate won by a razor-thin margin of 386 votes.
That election was contested in court, and Floridians said, Enough already!
Another impetus for the bill is that the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), the federal agency that tests the machines, has in essence said that such machines should not have been certified because there’s no way to independently verify the tallies the machines provide.
So Nelson and Whitehead are proposing getting rid of e-voting machines by 2012 and mandating that all such machines must at least have a paper trail by next fall’s election. Arranging for a paper trail by next fall on all those machines is an iffy proposition. It would be easier to simply insist on paper ballots, but apparently Whitehouse and Nelson suspect that the shock of seeing all the money spent on DREs going down the drain so soon after their purchase would be too much for some to handle. Yes, that will hurt, but:
[The bill’s] backers, like Dan McCrea, head of the Florida Voters Coalition, insist bills like this are necessary to get states to move to optical scanning, even if they are understandably reluctant to trash their investments in DRE. McCrea calls that foot-dragging the electoral equivalent of “buying a fleet of Pintos whose gas tanks you later find out blow up on you, but insisting you’re going to keep using them because you spent all that money on them.”
What a perfect description of the likely reaction of the St. Louis County Board of Elections. Nothing short of this national legislation or Carnahan decertifying all DREs would get them to move off the dime. And I don’t see Carnahan heading in that direction.
(photo courtesy of Time Magazine)