Thanks to Tom Toles [editorial cartoon, Aug. 16] for keeping alive the problem of touch-screen voting machines that don't have paper trails. In November an estimated 50 million Americans, or one-third of the electorate, will use these machines even though they are susceptible to malfunction as well as manipulation before and after votes are cast.

The right to vote and to know that one's vote is counted accurately is fundamental to democracy, but the potential lack of confidence in the results of the presidential election is being treated as just another legislative issue and an unimportant one at that. Remedial legislation introduced in Congress in 2003 garnered only 15 co-sponsors in the Senate and 183 co-sponsors in the House, and it remains dormant in their respective committees.

With the presidential election expected to be close, what will be the reaction of Americans to an outcome believed to be inaccurate or fraudulent? With no opportunity for recount or validation of millions of votes, in what kind of "democracy" will we be living?

Citizens can take some actions. They can investigate the rules for absentee voting in their district and join the push for paper ballots for this election. (Vermont is requiring paper ballots, and New Jersey will offer them as an option.) They also can join an organization active on this issue and be trained to serve as machine testers or election monitors.

Optically scanned or hand-counted ballots may take longer to tabulate -- but probably not longer than it took to resolve the 2000 election -- and citizens would have the confidence that their votes counted.


Silver Spring