Speaker discusses paper trail need

After an election error in which 245 votes were somehow lost and therefore not counted in last month’s primary election in Hillsborough County, the idea of yet another election fiasco is becoming frightfully real for Florida voters. Monday night, Rebecca Mercuri spoke to a crowd of more than 50 USF students and several election officials about this possibility.

Mercuri is one of the foremost leading scholars on electronic voting. She has been touring the country in recent months speaking about the flaws and likelihood of error in many of the new electronic voting systems. Following the 2000 presidential election, the entire country was thrown into turmoil as every night Americans were glued to their televisions to see who their president was.

“For months I didn’t know who the president was or who my congressman was,” said Mercuri as she addressed students in the Marshall Center.

But as the flaws of our voting system played out in front of the world, many were searching for a way to prevent this type of debacle from ever happening again.

Touch-screen voting systems, which were quickly touted as the cure-all solution to voting troubles, have not proved much more efficient than the butterfly ballots of the 2000 election. Voters want “to know when they leave the voting booth that their vote was cast and counted correctly,” said Mercuri.

This November, over 30 percent of the country will be voting on touch-screens that offer no real means of a recount. There is no verifiable way to show what the vote count is, or what the vote count really was. Sure, many of the machines will print a tally at the end of the day, but there is no way to prove whether or not the total is accurate.

“It’s garbage in and garbage out,” Mercuri said. “So when they say it’s fail safe, I don’t really believe it.”

It’s no secret that computers can be some of the most fickle and susceptible machines available, Mercuri said.

“If we knew ways to get rid of viruses, we would,” said Mercuri. “But we don’t.”

That is why calls for machines to produce some form of paper trail have reached such a feverish pitch.

People are merely asking to know that their vote counts, Mercuri said.

When asked to allow machines to be open for testing, either from watch groups, or elsewhere, the manufacturers have hidden behind patents and trade secrets as their wall of defense. This has inevitably created the “perfect crime,” Mercuri said.

“If you’re going to sell voting machines, it should be the right of the citizens to know that they are working correctly.”

Voting remains a complex problem, both here in the United States as well as elsewhere. Still, there are remedies out there, and while, they might never completely right the problem of vote counts, they can, however, alleviate the situation, Mercuri said.

Mercuri described a plan calling for paper trails and optical scanned ballots, not unlike those used on the SAT and other tests. However, seeing as how the election is merely six weeks away, Mercuri advised the audience to do as millions of other Americans: vote absentee.