House defeats paper ballot funding

The House rejected a bill last week that would have funded the purchase of paper ballots as a backup to electronic voting systems for the upcoming election.

The bill would have directed the Election Assistance Commission to establish a program to make the grants in time for the November vote.

Aviel Rubin, a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland and longtime skeptic of electronic voting, said he was disappointed by the House.

“It’s a real missed opportunity,” he said. “I just hope we won’t be sorry in November.”

Electronic voting machines — essentially specialized computers that display ballots and record and tabulate votes — have been controversial since they began to come into wide use following the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Proponents say the machines are fast, accurate, and easy to set up for disabled and non-English speaking voters. Critics, however, say the machines can be inaccurate and are subject to technical problems. Touch-screen machines in particular have caused concern because some models do not provide a paper record of votes that could be used if a manual recount is required.

The bill would have provided state and local election jurisdictions with the money they would need to buy paper ballots as a failsafe measure.

John Gideon, co-executive director of VotersUnite.org, said e-voting skeptics should stop trying to get federal legislation passed.

“It is just not going to happen,” he said. “Not only do the Republicans not want it, but the House and Senate leadership does not seem to be on our side.” Instead, he said, opponents should look to state legislatures and election authorities for help. “The state strategy has already worked in many states,” he said.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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