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View Diary: Your Vote in 2006 Won't Matter (With Poll) (163 comments)

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  •  There are some advantages to voting machines (none)
    if they are done right. Speed is only one of them; accuracy could be another if it were done correctly (I'll expound further if anyone's really interested).

    Consider that there are some things that a voting machine could potentially do that paper ballots cannot. For instance, here in Seattle we have voters who speak not only English, but Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Amharic and a variety of other languages. Now think about voting software where the first screen you meet would allow you to choose your language and allow you to see the voting screens written in your preferred language. It might not be cost effective to print 500 ballots in Amharic, but if the ballot translations were done by community volunteers and reviewed by members of the lanugage faculty at the University of Washington for accuracy and completeness, the cost would be much, much lower. And of course the machine wouldn't care whether the ballot was in English or Japanese, so the vote would be the same.

    I'm not saying that machines are a panacea or a be-all, end-all. I'm just saying, consider the potential advantages along with the disadvantages.

    •  I'd love to see you expound further (none)
      Intriguing ideas there!
      •  Since you asked (4.00)
        and it's your diary . . .

        I think far too many people focus on some idea of what a voting machine currently is instead of what it might be able to do. My ideal vision of a voting machine would include ideas like these:

        • The machine would not keep an internal tally of votes cast with no reference to what ballot the vote was cast on or, worse, no outside reference at all, amking it easily modifiable. In fact, it would produce a paper ballot that the voter could scan to verify that the votes marked are what he or she intended.

        • The ballot thus produced would have Scantron-type bubbles filled in for the votes cast. It would also have a bar code attached to the ballot that would have the same voting information as the bubbles, but which would be much faster to scan. At the end of the day the ballots would be run through a tabulator that would scan the bar codes and tally the votes, using technology similar to what a supermarket checker uses when she scans the UPC code on a can of soup. The bubbles would allow for an unambiguous hand count to verify the accuracy of the scanned vote.

        • The voter would also be given a receipt showing their ballot number. They would then be able to go the local voting records office to look up their ballot to make sure it was counted.

        • The software involved would be adaptable to off-the-shelf computer technology so that any computer with a mouse, a CD drive and an Ethernet jack could be used as a voting terminal if necessary. You might not even need a hard drive, except on whatever machine actually tabulates the ballots. Separate CDs would be loaded for the voting software, the ballot information for a particular precinct, and any localization information. (Any such machine would NOT be capable of joining the public Internet, however, and wireless connections would be right out.)

        • The software would be written in a format accessible to public inspection by any reasonably qualified individual -- i.e., it would be open source, if not Free Software under the definition of the Free Software Foundation (preferably both). Current efforts I'm aware of are written in Python, a reasonably easy-to-follow computer language.

        Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. There are other possibilities -- for instance, requiring voters to have their voter registration cards available, and having the voter database available at the polls so a quick scan of a bar code on the card would ensure that a person is qualified to vote in that particular precinct, and has not already voted.

        Machine voting, as I said above, is not a panacea and might have as many problems as a 100% paper ballot vote. Maybe more. I'm just discussing some ideas as to why we might not want to throw out the bathwater until we're sure there isn't a baby in there someplace.

    •  The language issue? (none)
      For instance, here in Seattle we have voters who speak not only English, but Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Amharic and a variety of other languages.

      Let me play Devil's Advocate (and attempt to defuse the inevitable flame war this is going to ignite) and ask the following: Is this really as big an issue as people make it out to be? It was always my understanding that part of the naturalization process (assuming, of course, that we are talking about individuals immigrating to the United States) needed to demonstrate at least some degree of proficiency with American "English".

      So, in those cases where we are dealing with non-English speaking voters, rather than using machines, might it just be easier to run off small batches of language-specific ballots? Small print runs (using modern high-speed laser printers) shouldn't be that expensive of a proposition...

      •  Good points (none)
        but let me say that if I were an immigrant citizen-voter and faced a complex ballot question, I would probably prefer to read the question in my native language rather than try to work my way through in English. The use of English as the "official language" of the United States or of any particular state is a touchy one and one that I'm not well-qualified to speak on, because after all I'm a native non-immigrant English speaker so I don't know of all the complex issues of cultural identity, national cohesiveness, economics and subtle racism involved. There are plenty of places to research both sides of the question.

        I am not so much saying the language question is why machines should be used as saying, it's one thing machines can do that paper ballots can't. Plus, in a system like the one I describe by definition you print exactly as many ballots in any language as you need -- no more, no less -- and they're distributed exactly where they need to be.

        For my part I take advantage of Washington's absentee ballot law to vote by mail, so I don't have any problems with paper ballots per se. I will admit that there are good reasons for sticking to paper ballots all the way; I'm just saying that there are things machines can do that paper ballots can't, and before we decide to completely outlaw voting machines, we should at least determine whether we're passing up potential benefits that would make them worthwhile.

        •  How are absentee ballots counted? (none)
          By hand or by machine?

          If scanned, are they scanned by a machine/company similar to Diebold - one with a "shady" past? There is apparently a Diebold "sister company" being considered for counting absentee ballots in California.

          Are ballots counted in a secure, public setting with citizen oversight? Or by a contractor's employee who manages the machine and the count (as in Ohio)?

          Just asking. I vote absentee, too, but don't have the answers to these questions yet.

          The age of purely representative democracy is surely over. It is time the people had their say. -

          by fhcec on Sun Oct 02, 2005 at 11:49:45 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The counting-- (none)
            Today nearly ALL ballots are counted by electronic tabulation systems on computers at the County level.

            Paper ballots, absentees, provisionals, Optically scanned ballots...all counted digitally.

            As I stress repeatedly -- It's the COUNTING not the CASTING that contains the biggest invitations to malicious tampering.

            It's wide open and designed in a way that makes vote tampering easy, fast and extremely effective.
            I think I have shamelessly plugged my website on this topic enough for one thread (!) but I do so only to get the word out about this vital issue.  So scroll up and you'll see the link there if you'd like to learn more about how your vote is counted.

            I'd recommend the chapter on Tecnology to start.

    •  Why is speed an advantage? (none)
      We've been suckered into thinking it is.

      In Germany they know the results right away because of the exit polls which are reliable.  However they take several days to do a hand count of the paper ballots.  And the sky does not fall.

      Speed, the desire for it, the insistence on it, is a danger in our case.

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