By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted, including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail, federal voting officials and legislators say.I hope the Democrats do everything they can to get these reforms in place in time for the 2008 election. They need to operate with a sense of urgency, especially if the Republicans figure out a way to either distance themselves from Bush and his disastrous war; or convince voters that it's not so disastrous after all and Dubya's resolute forceful manliness is the only thing standing between us and the Islamofascist Terrorist Hordes Of Scary.
New federal guidelines, along with legislation given a strong chance to pass in Congress next year, will probably combine to make the paperless voting machines obsolete, the officials say. States and counties that bought the machines will have to modify them to hook up printers, at federal expense, while others are planning to scrap the machines and buy new ones.
Motivated in part by voting problems during the midterm elections last month, the changes are a result of a growing skepticism among local and state election officials, federal legislators and the scientific community about the reliability and security of the paperless touch-screen machines used by about 30 percent of American voters.
The changes also mean that the various forms of vote-counting software used around the country — most of which are protected by their manufacturers for reasons of trade secrecy — will for the first time be inspected by federal authorities, and the code could be made public. There will also be greater federal oversight on how new machines are tested before they arrive at polling stations.
This week, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, a federal panel of technical experts that helps set voting standards, adopted a resolution that recommends requiring any new electronic voting systems to have an independent means of verification, a move that could eventually prevent paperless touch-screen machines from being federally certified.
Unfortunately, paperless voting machines are only one element of what's wrong with our election system. Not only are votes not getting counted properly, but many of them are not being cast at all, or are not reaching the tallying process. Any serious, comprehensive election reform must include stiff penalties and enforcement for all forms of voter suppression, such as voter intimidation, voter purges, hidden poll taxes in the guise of ID requirements, and dirty tricks in general (phone jamming, deceptive flyers or robocalls, etc.). As long as the Republicans continue to control which votes get to be counted, they don't really need to control the counting itself.