Sunday, April 11, 2004

Paper receipts make for risky voting


Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell Thursday nudged Hamilton County at last to join most other Ohio counties that already selected new voting machines. But some state officials still are trying to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. The state Controlling Board is holding up $127 million in federal dollars meant to buy more reliable voting machines. And members of a House-Senate committee Wednesday added their own mischief: They recommended boards of elections be required to let Ohio voters confirm their election choices with paper receipts by 2006.

The Controlling Board should free the funds, and lawmakers should dump paper receipts as a beguiling but bad idea.

Congress hoped the federal Help America Vote Act would allow states to install new machines by November in time to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election fiasco. Hamilton County uses Florida-style punch-card ballots but has not experienced such foul-ups, but the system is vulnerable to overvoting and other errors. Ohio was granted a waiver on the change-over until 2006, but there's no excuse for continued delays.

Blackwell had to break an impasse on the Hamilton County Board of Elections and make the final choice of voting systems himself. His choice of Hart InterCivic's eSlate looks promising. Election officials here consider it the most secure, since it has no outside ports that hackers could penetrate. Much larger Orange County, Calif., used eSlate successfully March 2.

Paper receipts may seem a good idea to let voters verify that their vote was accurately recorded. But paper receipts enable the possibility of vote-buying. Vote sellers could turn them in as proof needed to collect bribes from corrupt political organizers. The new machines allow voters to review their vote, and the new federal law requires the machines to produce a secure "audit trail" that lets election officials cross-check paper printouts with electronic totals.

Paper receipts only add more cost, delay and risk of abuse with little or no increase in voter confidence.

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