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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Get on with voting reform

THE Lucas County Board of Elections should get busy gearing up for the fall election and resist succumbing to any more paranoia about touch-screen voting machines.

The board, which already has significant in-house management problems to conquer, should disregard the misplaced zeal of state Sen. Teresa Fedor and state Rep. Peter Ujvagi and finalize its decision to purchase the state-of-the-art voting equipment.

Too much time has been wasted with hand-wringing over alleged security deficiencies of the Diebold electronic system, problems which we believe have been blown out of proportion and which in any case can be overcome by proper adherence to state-mandated voting regulations and procedures.

If the board doesn't get its contract nailed down, it may end up unprepared to count the votes come the Nov. 2 presidential election. Lucas County does not want to be caught short like certain counties in Florida were four years ago, to the detriment of the entire nation's electoral process.

Money also is a factor. While we believe that counties are generally far too parsimonious when it comes to something as important as elections, having the federal government pay for the new equipment is preferable to the considerable added expense of leasing optical-scan devices.

Moreover, the touch-screen equipment can be retrofitted later, at state expense, with printers to establish a paper trail, as required by a new state law.

While we fully understand public concerns about ballot security in the wake of the 2000 imbroglio in Florida, some of the furor over electronic voting sounds very much like the objections that must have been raised when Lucas County switched from paper ballots to lever-style mechanical voting machines a half-century ago.

The lever machines provided no real paper trail, only a printout of the number of votes cast. As it turned out, complaints about the possibility of inaccuracy and breakdowns of the mechanical devices were few and far between. We expect a similar record with the new technology, which is vastly superior to paper ballots and the infamous punch-card equipment still being used in many Ohio counties.

For most people, electronic voting will simplify and improve the voting experience, especially when many candidates and issues are on the ballot. It will provide greater accuracy of vote counting and speedier results, advantages that outweigh any disadvantages.

In addition, touch-screen voting allows blind and deaf voters to cast their ballots without assistance, which will give many of the handicapped an authentic secret ballot for the first time in their lives.

We are well aware that many people don't trust computers, just as some people didn't trust lever-style machines when they were first introduced, although that is no reason to balk at this 21st century advance in the electoral process.

The Diebold machines under consideration in Lucas County are not connected to the Internet, which should allay fears about hacking. Moreover, electronic devices can be produced with redundant systems to guard against lost votes.

In truth, any voting and vote-counting system can be compromised but only - and this is key - if established election procedures are not followed. If board of election personnel and poll workers are properly trained and adhere to built-in safeguards, fair and accurate elections can be assured.

Critics of electronic voting like Democrats Fedor and Ujvagi undoubtedly fear that their partisans may not be able to handle the new technology, but we believe those concerns are overblown. What is needed by the political parties, as well as the board of elections, is a massive educational project to acquaint voters with the new devices in advance of Nov. 2.

But that can only happen if the board of elections goes ahead with a contract to buy the touch-screen machines at its meeting next week.



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