By David Swanson
We’ll go vote on February 12th, and the nominees may already have been determined in other states. But we’d still like to know whether our votes are properly counted, and we will have no way of knowing. Charlottesville uses DRE voting machines (directly recording electronic voting machines). While the city brags that these are not touch-screen machines, because we turn a dial instead of touching a screen, the problems are the same. The machines we use have produced noticable errors in some places around the country, such as displaying on the final page for confirmation different selections from those the voter had made. But the danger lies in the unnoticable.
They use the same machines in Houston, where a Rice University professor asked half his class to hack into one and leave no trace, and the other half to try to detect the hacking. About half the time the changes to the software were able to shift the results without being detected. And there’s no way for any precinct that uses these machines to know that they haven’t been hacked. The count at the end is what it is, and it may be right or wrong, but there’s no way to check it. Yes, election workers can be the best-intentioned and most diligent souls on the face of the earth, and they can keep the machines under constant surveillance, but – given the secret nature of the counting – how can they expect to convince losing candidates that they lost and suspicious voters that their votes were counted?
The Virginia State Constitution bans secret vote counting, but Virginia’s legislature allows the use of DREs. This is a problem that should be addressed in court. If there is a case underway, I haven’t heard about it.
Instead, voting rights activists in Virginia can celebrate that the legislature has banned the purchase of any more DREs by localities. And advocacy groups are pushing new legislation that would permit and mandate rcounts of paper ballots counted by optical scan machines. Clearly this is a step in the right direction. However, the notion that optical scan machines are the way to go is likely to lead to many localities trying to use their existing supply of DREs as long as possible, due to the financial cost of the optical scan machines. Those machines have had as many problems as DREs, and they are not a real solution.
The real answer is hand-counted paper ballots. This answer is not cost-free. Workers need to be hired and trained to properly handle the paper ballots, to count them publicly and immediately on site, and to properly record and store them. I’m not sure that came across as well as I would have liked in this local television story I just appeared on: NBC 29.