Tennessean Column, February 01, 2008
The legislature's Voter Confidence Act Study Committee met last week and approved two very important pieces of legislation to require paper ballots for the new voting technology used in Tennessee. Now the bills head back to the elections subcommittee for reconsideration.
Voters may like the new touch-screen electronic voting equipment but, in retrospect, many are concerned it doesn't increase voter confidence for secure elections at all.
High on the list of noted problems is that Tennessee's new machines are run completely by computer software programs. No paper ballot is produced to back up information or to perform random audits of machine totals for accuracy.
Because the machines employ computer software, few have the skill or ability to verify the software source code for voting integrity. In addition, almost no one has the opportunity to verify the source code. Further, no law requires the source code to be stored for comparison at a later date.
Risk of foul play is real
Even so, a comparison of source code may not reveal if there was tampering. Recent congressional testimony and a report issued by Princeton University's School of Engineering each demonstrate how easily a virus, created to steal an election, can be uploaded into electronic voting machines and then erase all indication of itself after voting is complete, thus eliminating all evidence of foul play.
A simple, verifiable paper trail would help to alleviate many concerns for voters. As each voter casts his or her vote, they verify their choices on an anonymous paper record. Once voting is complete, random audits comparing the paper record to the electronic totals help to confirm the accuracy of the election.
A better alternative may be the optical-scanning machine, which requires each voter to mark a paper ballot. Then, the vote is counted by a scanner. The advantage of this system is that the ballot is retained, it is available for a recount, and it can be stored indefinitely.
Because of the concerns over ballotless voting equipment, some states reconsidered their use of electronic equipment in the 2006 elections. Congress is currently considering banning equipment without a paper ballot and funding replacement machines.
Tennessee House Bill 1256 would mandate replacement of all electronic voting machines without a paper ballot at a cost of $25 million. I believe that the General Assembly should commit to fund this legislation whether or not Congress sends us the money. HB 1282, legislation that I have sponsored each year since 2004, will ensure that going forward, all new voting equipment purchased in Tennessee will have a paper ballot.
A frightening quote by Joseph Stalin states, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." Tyranny relies on secret processes controlled by a scant few. The Voter Confidence Act Study Committee has voted to put the ballot back into the hands of the people. Let us pray the General Assembly will ultimately vote to do the same.
State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, is secretary of the Voter Confidence Act Study Committee.