Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coming to a voting booth near you? 

Everyone has probably heard many times by now that when Venezuelans go to vote on Sunday they will be voting with touch screen computers. At witch American readers gasp and think of those vote eating black boxes they are used to.

Well, not really. See in Venezuela, after you vote you actually get a nice printed receipt showing exactly how you voted:

Now, you don’t get to keep this receipt as a souvenir. Rather you have to deposit it in a box with everyone else’s, more than half of which will later be opened and counted to make sure the machine tally’s are correct. Moreover, given all the unique random codes put on the receipt which are also on the tally sheet and computers memory stick these ballots would be very difficult to dummy up even in the event you want to do a “cold” audit days or weeks after the election.

So good is this Venezuelan voting system that the country which most hates and despises the Venezuelan government seems hell bent on copying it. From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Touch Screens? Vote Yes or No

By June Kronholz

With 2008 on the horizon, the House seems likely to quickly pass a long-stalled bill that would tighten the security of touch screen voting. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will head the rules committee in the new Democratic-controlled Senate, has announced hearings on an identical measure.

That legislation would require that touch screens provide a paper record of each ballot and a random audit of a fraction of those records to verify that votes are being counted correctly. [Venezuela already does this and if the U.S. adopts it they should demand royalty payments for their intellectual property or sue - ow ]


Congress might have to pay for any modifications it mandates, like printer attachments to collect backup paper records. Diebold Inc. of North Canton Ohio, says its touch screens could be fitted with printers and the software that runs them for about $400 to $500 each. But any supplemental money is likely to be modest because of competing priorities, Democratic staffers predict.

With only a few buyers left in the market, the dozen-or-so voting machine vendors are likely to consolidate, eventually leaving only three or four, says Doug Lewis of the Election Center, an association of election officials. They’re also unlikely to devote time or resources on new touch-screen models if they expect few sales.

Instead, Diebold will concentrate on new products, including an electronic poll book that replaces paper lists of voters’ names, says Mark Radke, marketing manager for Diebold’s election unit [Venezuela also already has this too! – ow].

It seems that while U.S. elected officials often have not so nice things to say about the Venezuelan government they know a really good system when they see it. Hence there willingness to copy the Venezuelan system virtually lock stock and barrel. It certainly would represent a vast improvement over the voting systems most Americans currently use.


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