The Ideal Voting Machine?

by on October 19, 2006 · 24 comments

Wired has an article presenting David Wagner and Ed Felten’s recommendations for more secure voting machines. Their specific proposals–voter-verified paper trails; simpler, publicly available source code; ditch removable memory cards–all sound sensible to me. But I think it’s striking that in summary, what they advocate is transforming voting machines into glorified printers:

Touch-screens are easy to use and are flexible enough to accommodate disabled voters and multiple languages. Optical-scan devices provide reliable paper trails.

We recommend a third alternative that combines the best attributes of both–a ballot marking machine, such as one made by Election Systems and Software.

These devices let voters make their choices on a touch-screen. But instead of directly recording the votes digitally onto a memory card, the machine prints the votes onto a full-size paper ballot. Voters or election officials then place the completed ballots onto an optical-scan reader (.pdf), where the votes are recorded digitally.

I suppose this would marginally reduce the error rate by ensuring that all paper ballots are marked clearly. But on the other hand, more complexity means more potential for failure. Printers jam, software has bugs, power cords get tripped over, etc. And even if the machines work flawlessly, it’s not clear to me that it would be worth spending millions of dollars just to save voters the trouble of marking their own ballots.

Update: Felten points out that these are Wired‘s recommendations after talking with Wagner and Felten, and so not all of the recommendations reflect Wagner or Felten’s personal views. My mistake.

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