- TOUCHING: Congress may ban it.
A recent study of electronic voting machines in Ohio concluded that “Swift and specific changes are needed to improve the quality of Ohio elections so that Ohio is prepared to successfully execute next year's  presidential election.” Arkansas conducts its elections in much the same way that Ohio does, using the same kind of machinery, including touch-screen voting. No changes are planned.
One of the recommendations of the Ohio study was to end the use of touch-screen machines and require that all ballots be optical-scan ballots. (Some states, including Florida, have already done this.) In Ohio, as in Arkansas, counties now can use either touch-screen or optical-scan, or both. Pulaski County, Arkansas's largest, uses touch-screen for early voting and optical-scan on election day. Optical-scan entails use of a paper ballot.
In response to voting problems in the 2000 presidential election, Congress ordered the states to replace old punch-card and lever-voting systems with new high-tech systems. Some states, including Arkansas, were already using electronic voting systems. Only a handful of companies sell the electronic equipment that states must purchase.
Some states, including Arkansas and Ohio, required that all voting machines leave a “paper trail.” Even the touch-screen machines must generate some kind of paper record of each vote, a record that can be consulted in case of a recount.
Ohio and other states experienced more voting difficulties in the 2004 presidential election. Continuing election complaints caused Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer L. Brunner to launch Project EVEREST (Evaluation and Validation of Election Related Equipment, Standards and Testing). The Project EVEREST report was released last month. It said:
“The response to the new voting systems has been varied, but overall, public confidence in the new machines and trust in Ohio's elections system have suffered. Individuals, election officials, non-partisan voting-rights advocacy groups, and expert researchers both in Ohio and throughout the United States have expressed concerns regarding election integrity, security, accuracy, vote verification, and recounts using the various voting system technologies. Numerous documented malfunctions with elections systems and software, both statewide and nationally, have fueled public concern and contributed to the overall uncertainty of voters. … Additionally, voting systems have recently been tested in several other states including California, Florida, New Jersey and Connecticut, all exposing serious flaws in the security of voting systems used in these jurisdictions …”
The report said the “paper trail” left by touch-screen voting had proved inadequate protection against errors in the voting process. Thus, the recommendation that only optical-screen ballots be used. The report also recommended that all counting of ballots be done at a central location, not at the voting precincts, where many people — voters, officials, poll watchers, etc. — might have an opportunity to jigger the machines.
Despite cries for reform, most states will probably continue to use their present voting systems through this year's presidential election. The next one, in 2012, may be different. U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, have introduced a bill that would ban touch-screen voting machines nationwide, beginning that year.