States abandoning electronic voting machines "in droves"

Assuming this turns out to be true, it could be very good news on the voting integrity front. The Hill is reporting – thought without much specificity – that states are ditching their electronic voting machines in droves.

With many electronic voting machines more than a decade old, and states lacking the funding to repair or replace them, officials have opted to return to the pencil-and-paper voting that the new technology was supposed to replace.

Nearly 70 percent of voters will be casting ballots by hand on Tuesday, according to Pamela Smith, president of election watchdog Verified Voting.

“Paper, even though it sounds kind of old school, it actually has properties that serve the elections really well,” Smith said.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after the 2000 election, when the battle over “hanging chads” in the Florida recount spurred a massive, $3 billion federal investment in electronic voting machines.

The major question I have about this report is the lack of specific examples. I’ve heard of a number of states who were discussing it (which was actually already in full swing back in 2008) but a detailed list of those who officially made the move seems hard to come by. The major deciding factor for making the switch, though, was a bit surprising to me. Many states using the new technology have machines which are a decade or more old and in need of updates or repair and they just don’t have the money for the upkeep. Conversely, the old mechanical lever machines like the ones we used in New York until well into the 2000s required only basic routine maintenance and checks and seemed to go on forever like the energizer bunny.

The worst of the new machines are the ones without a paper trail, and they are still in use in places like Chicago. In Cook County, for example, one machine was found to be mysteriously changing Republican votes to the Democrat, though that was later found to just be a … *cough* calibration error. Fortunately, those types of machines seem to be in the minority.

We’re currently using optical scan machines which do have a paper trail, but that’s small consolation for many of us. You fill out your paper ballot and then feed it into the machine, but there is no video display to show which choices were recorded. If the machine fails to record a vote for any given column, it will theoretically spit it back out so you can try again. If it does decide that you’ve made a choice for each, a dull, clunking sound is heard and the ballot disappears into the machine without your having any idea what was recorded. It is true that the ballots can be retrieved for a manual count, but that is only triggered in extremely tight races. The majority are never looked at again.

If more of you are seeing paper ballots, good for you. It may be old fashioned and clunky, but at least they can be counted after the fact if need be. We need more of this, not less.