washingtonpost points out that HR811 conflicts with systems like punchscan

Punchscan; see your vote count

From A Damaging Paper Chase In Voting by Timothy J. Ryan for the Washington Post comes this piece opposing HR811. Among other things it points out that HR811 would conflict with voting systems that cannot provide a paper trail (like Prime III, an Auburn University project that I am not familiar with and hence do not endorse in any way) or cannot preserve all paper records (like punchscan) I would be interested in hearing the reaction of people involved with punchscan to this piece.

When early jet aircraft crashed, Congress did not mandate that all planes remain propeller-driven. But this is the kind of reactionary thinking behind two bills that would require that all voting machines used in federal elections produce a voter-verifiable paper record. These bills — the Ballot Integrity Act (S. 1487), and the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 811) — are understandable backlashes to the myriad problems encountered in the implementation of electronic voting.

The response proposed in these Senate and House bills is for all such machines to produce paper receipts that voters can examine to ensure that their votes were correctly cast. The goal — a double-check of the machine tally — is worthy. Unfortunately, paper records are no panacea for the shortcomings of machines, and mandating paper removes the incentive for researchers to develop better electronic alternatives.

Paper verification looks good on, well, paper, but it is not the cure-all some of its proponents believe it to be. More than two centuries of U.S. elections have shown us that paper is at least as susceptible to chicanery as electronic records. Paper ballots can be modified, counterfeited or destroyed with relative ease. It is not at all clear that they constitute a more reliable medium than electronic records.

All of these drawbacks and more might be tolerable if a paper trail were the only way to double-check votes, but it is not. It is not even the best way.

A system called Prime III, developed by researchers at Auburn University, would employ a separate electronic “witness” in each voting booth. The witness, which would operate independently of the DRE machine, could more efficiently double-check the DRE’s tallying of votes while safeguarding privacy and being more accessible to the disabled.

Another system, Punchscan, designed by a team at the University of Maryland, offers an exciting array of features: After casting their ballots, voters can go to a computer and use a receipt to view their individual ballots online. An exceptionally clever ballot format allows voters to see the marks they made on their ballots in such a way that they can recognize that the marks are in fact theirs, while still obscuring their specific candidate selections, as is necessary to prevent vote-buying. While a simple paper trail ensures that the voter’s choices were accurate at one instant in time, the Punchscan system goes much further. Voters can confirm not only that their ballots were cast correctly but also that they were faithfully counted after the election.

Unfortunately, the language in the Ballot Integrity Act and the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, the latter of which is likely to move to the floor before the end of the month, would prohibit the use of both Prime III and Punchscan — Prime III because it does not produce a paper record and Punchscan because the paper record is not preserved by election officials. Given time and the right market incentives, alternatives such as these can be developed, perfected and implemented. On the other hand, mandating a paper record will commit American democracy to an antiquated alternative for the foreseeable future.


5 responses to “washingtonpost points out that HR811 conflicts with systems like punchscan

  1. Pingback: Punchscan » HR811

  2. Thanks for the response, Rick.

  3. Interesting.

    I have another topic I’d like to get your input on. Slate notes that the California ballot initiative to change allocation of electoral votes is unconstitutional because the Constitution specifically gives that power to the state legislatures, not to the people. Article II, Section 1, the Constitution declares that electors shall be appointed by states “in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.”


    What do you think? What if the initiative turned into a state constitutional amendment to require the legislature to vote accordingly. Would that be constitutional?

  4. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of the report we just released on electronic voting. We discuss the limitation of paper audit trails, alternative technologies (to paper) that can be used for audit trails, and suggest that we should focus the national discussion not on whether or not we should have paper trails, but rather on how to implement universally verifiable (or end-to-end verifiable) voting systems.

    The report is at our website: http://www.itif.org/files/evoting.pdf

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