E-voting systems only as reliable as the paper trail they produce

Electronic voting machines introduce many problems and, without accompanying paper records, are not as reliable as paper ballots

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But one of the biggest potential problems with DRE is the lack of a paper trail. When voting is done by DRE but not accompanied by a Verified Voter Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) - essentially a printed receipt verifying the vote cast - then there is no recourse in the cases where a recount is desired, due to computer or human error. No matter what goes haywire during voting, so long as there is a paper trail of the actual votes cast, we can still ultimately count every vote and be reasonably sure that the right candidate won.

Do the states or precincts that user DRE also require VVPAT? Not most of them, according to

a joint survey  on the voting technology preparedness of each state
released this past summer by the Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers School of Law and Common Cause Education Fund. The report evaluated and rated each state’s voting technology on a number of criteria, such as whether paper records are required, contingency plans for technology failures are in place, and whether post-election audits or accounting and reconciliation procedures are conducted.

They report that 23 states currently use DRE, either solely or in combination with paper ballots. Of those states, 16 were deemed to be “Inadequate,” meaning that some or all of the counties using DRE don’t require VVPAT.

So, almost half the states use e-voting, and two-thirds of those don’t require a paper trail, meaning in the case of a close election or accusations of malfunction or fraud, there’s no way to go back and independently verify that votes were properly counted.

To be sure, as noted in the report, paper ballots alone do not guarantee that problems won’t occur. Optical scanners can break down and malfunction, and even paper ballots should be audited and reconciled to catch any problems. The survey, in fact, gave Massachusetts an overall rating of “Needs Improvement,” mainly because it doesn’t conduct post-election audits to ensure that votes were properly counted.

While electronic voting is the probably the way we’ll all vote sooner or later, it still seems that good old paper ballots have a lot of advantages (and built-in safeguards) over e-voting.

What type of voting mechanism does your state or county use? Have you run into problems with e-voting (or with paper ballots)? Let us know in the comments.

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