PREDICTIONS THAT touch-screen voting machines would enable massive fraud on Election Day seem to have gone the way of Y2K. Still, watchdog groups are continuing to report machine failures, including screen malfunctions that voters said hindered attempts to record their choices accurately. That is the haunting question still not addressed in most states using touch-screens: Without any paper records of how votes were cast, who will ever know how accurate the machine tallies were?
In Bernalillo County, N.M., for example, a number of voters reported that when they attempted to select John F. Kerry, the electronic machine selected the Libertarian presidential candidate, according to the Election Protection coalition, a nonpartisan group of civil rights organizations. After making several attempts and then notifying poll workers, the voters were able to record their choices correctly -- or so it appeared on their screens.
In Maryland, officials of TrueVoteMD said the group received reports of various machine problems. In one instance, according to the organization, a voter in Prince George's County reported that the machine she was using crashed just as she hit the button to cast her ballot. She said she was told by election judges that there was no way to verify that her vote had been counted -- and no way to recast her ballot. How satisfying is that? She can only hope that her selections were recorded, but faith-based voting won't do.
For the most part, voters said that using the machines was not difficult, that the problems they encountered were the classic variety: slow lines, poll workers who were not well-versed on procedures and insufficient equipment to accommodate heavy turnout. But a relatively smooth Election Day nationwide is no argument for states to continue using machines that do not produce paper trails of votes cast. Machines will crash, hackers may find ways to sabotage the counts and, without a way to audit the tallies, elections may be tainted. This year, states said they did not have enough time to add paper-trail capability to their machines. Now it's time. The integrity of the voting process demands action.