Ivy Main | Protecting the vote

Two years ago the Virginia legislature took a major first step towards verifiable voting by passing a law banning localities from buying any more of the paperless electronic voting machines known as DREs — the computers that most of us have been voting on, but which have been shown nationwide to be prone to failure, subject to programming errors, and vulnerable to manipulation.

Since then, some jurisdictions have begun to purchase optical-scanning machines, which read paper ballots filled out by voters. The paper ballots are retained to be available in the case of a recount, and could be used to audit the accuracy of the machines. This is precisely what lawmakers intended to have happen, and what voters and election security advocates have demanded from their legislators. And the optical-scanning machines have done more than provide verifiability; one can do the work of many DREs, so they eliminated waiting times for voters where they were used in this past election.

Now, incredibly, committees in the House and Senate are considering a reversal of the ban. SB 988 and HB 2422 would make Virginia the only state to reverse course and embrace a technology that other states have been abandoning. Even Florida, which bought new DREs after the 2000 election debacle, has since scuttled the machines following a second disputed election, and after regulators determined that optical-scan machines would save the state money.

So why would Virginia go backwards? Lawmakers are experiencing a full-court press from local registrars, many of whom never liked the ban and see their chance now to reverse it, while voters aren’t paying attention.

The registrars say they can’t afford to change over all their machines at once, and they don’t want to use DREs in some precincts and optical scan in others. But allowing them to buy more of a bad technology now would simply push the problem down the road. Meanwhile, these officials run the risk of making Virginia the next Florida.

Legislators should not cave into these shortsighted appeals, but should vote no on SB 988 and HB 2422.


– Column by Ivy Main

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