Assembly losing faith in touch voting?

The General Assembly is making moves towards phasing out electronic touch-screen voting machines over the course of the next few years, heeding the calls of activists upset over the lack of accountability the devices introduce to the democratic process.

Most electoral districts in the state use such devices, which in their most reckless form can leave election officials without a hard copy of the data which could be used to recover from mechanical or software glitches on election day, or – so say the conspiracy theorists – to detect fraud and tampering.

Most of the expensive machines are relatively new, meaning that the debate is more about politics than pragmatics; that is, they don't need to be replaced if we can trust our election officials. Even among the voices calling for a change and a paper trail, there's a faction which remains content to sit and wait for a congressional mandate, which hopefully will include federal funds to be used for the purchases.

The alleged risks of electronic voting have been a hot button issue on a national level for some time now. Robert F. Kennedy has penned a long and highly publicized essay on voting with digital ballots, and two election workers in Ohio were convicted on Wednesday of tampering with the crucial swing state's votes during the throes of the 2004 presidential election.

In what can only be described as the industry equivalent of a Darwin Award-worthy performance, Diebold Election Systems, ever the unlucky figurehead for the politically paranoid's problems with e-voting, even posted an image of a system unlock key on its web site earlier this week, thereby enabling even casual hackers to create functioning copies and imperiling a generation of the company's machines.

A general sense of caution seems to have descended over certain parts of the voting populace, with Hook art critic Laura Parsons reporting an unsettling typo on the ballots this past November and absentee voter Andrew Devereux drawing attention to a goofy set of instructions before the 2004 elections. Through it all, however, registrar Sheri Iachetta has remained confident in Charlottesville's spin-wheel system.

The gradual phase-out being proposed in Richmond, SB840, will require any new machines purchased after July 1, 2007 to include a hard-copy ballot counting mechanism. The initiative has so far made it through the smaller internal Privileges and Elections Committee by a landslide 13-2 vote, and a full vote is expected next week.

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1 comment

Well, I'm left here just scratching my hanging chad and wondering what all the fuss is about...