Voting machines need paper trail

September’s primary illustrates the problems with new voting technology.

After two consecutive presidential elections ended in contention – most dramatically the 2000 election, because of ballot irregularities – many states and cities have switched to new voting technology to help ensure “hanging chads” never again enter American political discourse. But, in doing so, many have rushed ill-prepared into a system without fail-safes to guarantee that every vote is counted properly.

The primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois and Maryland reported serious malfunctions in the new machines. Some rebooted for no apparent reason, others recorded votes for a candidate different than they were cast.

A study by Princeton University discovered that AccuVote, a product of Diebold Election Systems – on which as many as 5 percent of Americans will vote this fall – was easily broken into and contaminated with a virus that would manipulate vote totals.

Representatives of Diebold have tried to silence these reports with legal action and have refused to submit their products to additional testing, but by now it is clear their products are deplorably inadequate and don’t come close to the security guarantee that is necessary to justify their use.

About 40 percent of registered voters will use some kind of electronic voting system this fall. Some states, Minnesota included, require voting machines to create a paper trail, to provide assurance against fraud or failure. There is no good reason not to institute such a policy nationwide. Physical records of votes would be invaluable in a contested election.

Updating voting technology to reduce irregularities is necessary, as proved by the 2000 and 2004 elections. Indeed, electronic voting can generate results faster and more accurately than previous systems. But this paperless electronic system isn’t good enough, especially considering the fundamental flaws of some machines that have been exposed in this year’s primaries. We shouldn’t substitute one bad system for another.

Some attribute this quote to Josef Stalin: “He who votes decides nothing; he who counts the votes decides everything.” Let’s be sure we count correctly.