Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Paper ballot necessary, but not sufficient

Hello Al - Before I comment on your comments, below, let me say that I consider voter-verified paper ballots on touch-screens essential but not sufficient. If a touch-screen is to be used at all, it MUST have a voter-verified paper ballot, but there's more to it than that.

Whether they SHOULD be used at all is a separate question. But they ARE being used and/or are about to be used in many places.

If a bill that calls for a VVPB gets passed at this point, it may mean that if counties DO BUY THEM... then they would buy them with VVPBs... or WAIT to buy them so as to avoid an expensive retrofit in the near future. Counties' having to delay the purchase of paperless DREs gives us a chance to get them to reconsider a better alternative, such as optical-scan or other paper ballots... especially if they have to "deal with paper anyway." Case in point: Ohio, where the legislature recently agreed that VVPBs would be required in the near future. Suddenly LOTS of counties that had been on the verge of getting new touchscreens have delayed their decision (at last count, 22 out of 31).

Quoting alkolwicz :

> The "audit trail" bills are intended to deceive voters into believing that
> they are verifying the votes that will decide an election. This is not what
> these bills do.

It may be that some bills are introduced with a deceptive intent. I don't believe that's the case for all such bills. BUT... that being said, the Colorado perspective naturally is affected by the CO law that says only the original counting method can be used. Thus VVPBs are insignificant in CO unless they are the first line of count.

Other states (such as CA, where I live) have quite different rules about recounts. Here ANYONE has the right to ask for a recount, and if the original was done by electronic means, the recount can be done electronically, manually, or both. (That's why here in CA we point out that DREs that LACK a VVPB don't comply with state law... because they don't allow for a meaningful MANUAL recount.)

> Instead, voters would be verifying a secondary document that: (1) does not
> necessarily reflect the voter's choices, (2) is printed in a form that is
> excessively difficult for voters to verify and costly for officials to use
> for independent counting and (3) is not the official ballot and will rarely
> be counted.

Voter-verification of a paper ballot, to me, means that if the voter's choices are NOT reflected on the paper they review, that they get to spoil the ballot and start over. It's not verification if the choices shown are not what you intended. If a bill doesn't allow the voter to do it over, then it is not a good bill.

The manner of printout for a VVPB from a touchscreen or DRE would depend on design, which surely varies from one vendor to another. Diebold Election Systems, in a bid, told Santa Clara County in CA that it already had the capability to print what they refer to as a "voter receipt." But they're talking about the on-board thermal roll used for the zero tapes and the tally tapes at the end of the day... the sample looked much like an ATM receipt. I would agree that both reviewing and hand-counting of such printouts would be unpleasant (but I'd take it, over no printout at all, if it means I can confirm my vote was recorded as intended).

On the other hand, I saw a demonstration of an AccuPoll printout, which came out on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper. The print could have been larger, but that's a design change... it was simple to discern one's choices, though.

We've been told that some DREs are capable of printing an "image of the ballot cast" which may be a screen-shot of the summary screen on the DRE. If that is the case, it should be pretty easy to read. Certainly no harder than the summary screen on the DRE... But I haven't seen any of those personally.

Finally, which governs--paper or electronic: One of the things I noted about the Ensign bill is that the specific language about the paper document spells out that it GOVERNS in the case of any discrepancy.

Procedural rules about whether the paper should be the ONLY thing counted or the FIRST thing counted or should ALWAYS be counted are left out... presumably because states (like CO) won't want to be told how they should count; in other words, a "states rights thing" as we heard often in DC recently... and that may end up being a separate battle, which is why groups like CAMBER and CFVI are so crucially important.

Having a paper ballot to count so that the voter can verify that his/her vote was recorded as intended, whether that comes in the form of a VVPB or an optical scan ballot or a hand-mark, hand-count paper ballot, is the FIRST requirement.

By itself, it isn't sufficient.

But it is necessary.