Thursday, February 23, 2006

My votes are spiralling the drain

My county, the county of Lawrence in Pennsylvania, has decided to avail themselves of their federal grant money for new voting machines and comply with the Help America Vote Act. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. In the past, the voters in this county were just about as old-fashioned as old-fashioned could be; we darkened ovals on a sheet of paper. Granted, that paper was then scanned through a machine much like multiple choice tests are in schools, but it was still ovals with a pencil and paper.

So, upgrading and modernizing isn't a horrible idea. I don't really have a problem with that method of voting, but it's not as if I am married to it. However, when upgrading to new methods of voting, one should take care that the new method is a safe one.

This is where the county and, indeed, the Pennsylvania Department of State failed. The PADoS failed because they have not certified any voting machine that leaves a paper trail even though such machines are available and reliable. So, in making the decision to comply, the Lawrence County commissioners paid $867,415 for 275 iVotronic electronic voting machines from Election Systems and Services out of Omaha, NE, that may not actually tabulate the votes properly as they are cast, and the voter will have neither any idea that it's happening nor any recourse if it does, as there is no possible way to retrieve a vote after it is recorded.

Needless to say, this bugs me. How can I have any confidence at all to go to the polling center and be sure that my votes are, first of all, being counted at all, and then going to the person I'm trying to choose? I can't. I just can't. Having written programs, having spent way too much time around computers, I know that there is just no way to assume safely that a computer is going to do what you expect it to do.

Let's just say that the sole county commissioner who voted against these new machines will retain my vote when it comes time for their re-election. I don't know and don't care what party he belongs to at this point.

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