Tech trails in election report
- By William Matthews
- Aug 07, 2001
Better election procedures are more important to election reform than are
new, high-tech voting machines, a task force of election officials said
in a report to Congress.
"Only a small percentage of the problems [in the November 2000 election]
were directly related to any failure by vote tally devices themselves,"
the National Task Force on Election Reform said in a report released Aug.
9. "The problems were created by people, not machines."
That finding by 37 state and local election officials serves as counterpoint
to the post-election scramble by vendors, researchers and politicians to
promote new voting technology. Voting machines that feature optical scanners,
touch screens and vote transmission over the Internet have been touted as
solutions to election woes.
Tallying the results of last fall's presidential election dragged on
for 36 days while ballots in Florida were recounted and recounts were challenged
in court. Punch-card voting machines were blamed for failing to accurately
count tens of thousands of votes, while poorly designed ballots were faulted
for confusing thousands of voters.
Within weeks after the election was settled, members of Congress introduced
a series of bills that could make hundreds of millions of dollars available
to states and localities to buy new voting machines.
It would cost $3.5 billion or more to replace all of the nation's old-technology
voting machines, said Doug Lewis, director of The Election Center, which
sponsored the task force. But the machines are not the most serious problem,
Most of the trouble in Florida stemmed from inconsistent standards and
vague procedures, he said. The state lacked clear standards on what constituted
a vote — hence the disputes over dimpled and hanging chads. And there were
no clear rules on how recounts should be conducted.
"Solve those two problems," and the election in Florida might have been
uneventful, Lewis said.
News coverage of the Florida recounts convinced most Americans that
punch-card voting machines were responsible for the election problems and
that replacing the machines will prevent recurrence, the task force said.
But one task force member, Ron Chaney, chairman of the Henrico County,
Va., Electoral Board, said his jurisdiction used punch-card machines with
"It's not the technology," Lewis said. "The technology is a piece of
it, but not the most important piece."
Developing clearer election policies and procedures, providing better
training for poll workers, designing ballots to minimize voter confusion
and establishing statewide registries of voters are among the steps the
task force recommends.