Paper or Plastic?

For many Californians there will be something of a reforendum in tomorrow’s election that isn’t on the ballot: paper or plastic. As you’ve probably heard, there have been serious and significant security issues with electronic voting machines. That’s an implementation problem which is shameful, but not a fundamental limitation of the technology. A more fundamental issue with the smart-card system most of our touchscreen-voting counties are using is that the system lacks any kind of voter-verified paper-trail — meaning there’s nothing to fall back on if you suspect electronic fraud. The argument I sometimes hear is that getting rid of paper eliminates the problem of hanging chads and the recount problems from Florida 2000. This is true, in the same way eliminating all financial accounting records would reduce fraud convictions.

Here in California, our Secretary of State has insisted that all voters be given the option to vote via a paper ballot… but many counties feel that’s an extra burden so they won’t inform you of that right, and some counties even plan to further inconvinience paper-ballot voters. My advice to those who are voting in touchscreen counties: ask for paper anyway. My hope is that Wednesday’s headlines (under the one that says “Kerry Wins,” of course) all report record numbers of voters requesting paper ballots and giving a resounding no-confidence vote in the shoddy technology we have this time around.