Those modern "touch-screen" voting machines that were to be a panacea for eliminating voting problems such as the ones that occurred in Florida in 2000 are beginning to look like a bigger problem themselves.
The machines are supposed to eliminate all the disadvantages of paper and punch-card ballots, disadvantages like hanging chads and confusing ballot lineups that have, in effect, disenfranchised voters throughout the country. But the system of allowing voters to touch a computer screen in the box of their favorite candidate eliminates any "paper trail" that could be used to check the accuracy of the voting tabulation.
The fact that several of the executives of the firms who manufacture the newfangled machines are closely linked with Republican politicians and President Bush, in particular, has fed suspicion, especially since several computer experts have shown that the software for the machines isn't foolproof and can be tampered with. It didn't help that the CEO of the major touch-screen manufacturer, Diebold, is a prolific campaign contributor to Bush and has publicly committed to "delivering" the state of Ohio to him in the 2004 election.
Add all that to a spotty record in places the machines are in place and election officials are starting to say "whoa."
Both Democrats and Republicans in Fairfax County, Va., claim that many votes weren't counted by the new high-tech machines in an election this past Nov. 4. The county had installed 1,000 of the expensive machines, which were supposed to simplify tallying the results. Some claim dozens of the machines didn't work correctly.
It also hasn't helped that the manufacturers of the machines insist on keeping secret the technology used for their system, a stance that has been upheld by several courts. But the secrecy means that if tampering does occur, there is no way to discover it. And when computer buffs demonstrated that they could tamper with the software, Diebold filed "cease and desist" orders against them.
Concerns about tampering surfaced after the 2002 elections when several places that use the new electronic equipment experienced remarkable upsets over what the pre-election polls had been predicting. In Georgia, for example, the voting showed a swing of up to 16 points from the last polling results.
Here in Wisconsin, Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison and state Sen. Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee are sponsoring a bill that would ban touch-screen voting here until it is proven the machines are accurate and fair.
Wisconsin's Green Party, like all third parties concerned that the system could be rigged to eliminate them, has weighed in on the measure.
"In order to be sure that the machines are satisfactory ... the voting machine software program should be 'open source,' open for all to examine," wrote the Greens' Ruth Weill.
Wisconsin's election rules currently limit electronic voting systems to optical scanning equipment, which does have a paper backup to check the counts. That's as it should remain for now.
Paperless touch-screen technology isn't reliable enough and is too full of conflicts of interest among its manufacturers to be trusted with our democracy.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times