The Right Reform

Saturday, February 3, 2007

LAWMAKERS locally and nationally are moving in the right direction in pushing for improvements in how Americans vote. Foremost is the growing movement to require an independent way to verify the results of electronic voting. It's critical, though, that this reform effort be calibrated so that local election officials are given the time and resources to do the job properly.

Congress is expected to consider legislation this year requiring that the nation's electronic voting machines produce a paper trail so that people can verify the accuracy of their votes and to facilitate recounts in disputed elections. Meanwhile, as reported by the New York Times, states such as Florida may abandon touch-screen voting. The Virginia legislature is considering a bill that would phase out the machines, and Maryland appears headed toward some kind of requirement for a paper trail.

While we have not been in the camp of those seeing fanciful conspiracies in electronic voting, a backup system is without question the best way to safeguard security and ensure voter confidence. One worry, however, is whether unreasonable mandates will be placed on local communities. Some of the problems that Maryland experienced during last fall's elections were attributed to election workers being overwhelmed by new and unproven technology. Already, officials such as state Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have expressed doubt about whether the state has the money or the time to implement big changes for the 2008 presidential election.

It's clear that this will be the impetus from Congress, where Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) has lined up a majority of House members in support of his bill requiring paper ballots in time for the presidential primaries. Mr. Holt is correct about the urgency of the need for reform, but it's important that this reform be a lasting one.

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