Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The Indispensable Element: Paper Ballots
Paper Ballots are indeed a necessary component...
but not sufficient to produce trustworthy elections. Yes, we paper ballot advocates have been successful. This first major battle, hard fought over the past 4 years, is a win for the election integrity groups fighting against the direct recording electronic voting machines (DRE) in New York State.
The most recent, and hopefully the last, deadline for local election officials to report their choice for 2008 equipment purchases passed last week. All but one of the 62 New York State counties have selected ballot marking devices (BMD) compatible with paper ballots. And lawmakers in Hamilton County might still intercede to prevent their county from being the only DRE county in the state.
The BMDs will be deployed this year in partial compliance with the so-called Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The courts have dictated that New York must accomodate disabled voters at every polling place this year. Complete HAVA compliance is to be achieved in 2009 and the choices made this year indicate that paper ballots will be the final HAVA solution.
Paper ballots make fraud free elections POSSIBLE....... they certainly do not provide anything near a guarantee of same. Several prominent writers have argued that the current concerns about the voting machines are a distraction from the real problems. Those problems being various forms of voter misinformation, disenfranchisement and intimidation which have occurred over the years regardless of the machinery used. Suffice it to say there are many people, some of them serving as election officials, who are not committed to democracy and can not be trusted to protect the integrity of the vote.
Protecting the integrity of the vote is our job...and the job is far from done. Our efforts must now turn to the many other devices, conditions and actors which stand in the way of true democratic and honest elections. The conversation has already started concerning such things as effective audits, secure chain of custody procedures, reform of election administration, and greater transparency for the entire process. As activists we surely will continue our advocacy for better elections and press for the needed changes.
One of the most effective actions we can take requires no new laws or large expenditures of cash. What is needed is a commitment to democracy and a willingness to contribute to community. Citizens must become involved in our elections to a much greater degree than we have. As individuals we can volunteer to serve as Election Inspectors and Poll Watchers or work at get out the vote programs. As members of community service organizations we can urge the organizations to support such efforts.
It seems necessary to state the obvious: We can not complain about the lack of transparency if we're not there to see, and we can not contribute to improved administration if we are not there to discover how the job is done and what needs to change. For democracy and election integrity we have to be there.