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Time Magazine: Voting Out E-Voting Machines PDF  | Print |  Email
By Tim Padgett, Time Magazine   
November 04, 2007

It is hard to believe now what a darling touch-screen voting was seven years ago. After the Florida presidential vote recount debacle — which made traditional paper voting, especially the infamous "butterfly" ballots and hanging chads, look positively Third World — electronic voting was embraced as the way back from America's electoral humiliation. Some 50,000 touch-screen machines were bought in 37 states at a cost of almost a quarter of a billion dollars.


The reversal since then couldn't be more stunning — as indicated by a bill in Congress introduced this past week by Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, which would ban touch-screen voting (also known as direct recording electronic voting, or DRE) in federal elections starting in 2012. "We have to start setting a goal on this," Nelson tells TIME. "Voters have to feel confident that their ballot will count as intended."


After the initial excitement, it didn't take long for voters to lose trust in the new system, as they increasingly deemed DRE too complex, unreliable and insecure; the only thing worse than a confusing paper trail, it turned out, was no paper trail at all. (It didn't help that the main touch-screen machine supplier, Diebold, was widely accused in 2004 of ties to the Republican Party.) Fifteen Florida counties adopted touch-screen as well, and they learned the pitfalls of it the hard way, dealing with controversies like a 2006 congressional race in the Sarasota district, where an astonishing 15% of the ballots cast registered no choice at all — in a race that was decided by a razor-thin margin of 386 votes.


As a result, Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist moved immediately after his January inauguration to scrap e-voter machines and return the state to paper by 2008 — to what he and most voter-rights advocates call the more trustworthy optical scan system. In that method, votes are marked on a sheet (which is retained for auditing purposes) and then electronically scanned. That system got a boost late last year when the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, issued a highly critical assessment of touch-screen in favor of optical scanning." I get a receipt when I go to the bank or get gas," Crist told TIME, urging voting methods that provide a paper trail, "so why not for the most precious thing we have, the vote?"


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