Paper or Silicon?

This is an article I just wrote for my school newspaper. You are probably the first to see it.

Election season will have already passed by the time you read this and odds are that some close race will be decided in the courts with some accusation of voter fraud on one side or the other. In fact as I write this on election night Keane in New Jersey has already accused Menendez of voter fraud in his win (not without justification, New Jersey is famous for corruption and the winner is under a federal investigation for corruption). Lawyers on both side are arrayed for the mammoth legal battle to follow over the next dimpled chad. Meanwhile in Milwaukee voter turnout is above 100% due to the busses from Chicago. Our election system has serious problems with it and there is no real will to revise our system. The system as presently constructed has 3 specific problems with it voter fraud, machine error, and voter error. All these problems have solutions of the high and low tech variety.

The most serious problem is voter fraud. There are a few reasons for this. The main one is that voter fraud is an error which can influence elections while the other problems can only swing the closest elections. In order to vote in elections now you only need to verify your signature. That’s right politicians make a big stink about an 18 year old drinking and stores proudly announce that they card while we wink and nod at the felonies committed by the people who vote several times in the election. I have heard no good reason why there should be no photo ID requirement for voting. The politicians who like the current system give the excuse that not all voters have a photo ID. So give one at registration or let them cast a provisional ballot and make them show a valid ID within a week or two. We put far stricter restrictions on things far less serious to society, but apparently we don’t care about the dead voting. As to multiple votes there are two solutions. One is one we perfected in Iraq-fingerinking it’s simple and it works until somebody discovers a cheap way of cleaning the ink off. The other is an electronic registry which is synchronized in all the precincts.

Then there is machine error. Despite the claims of a few crazies there is no conspiracy by Diebold or any other voting machine company to throw the election to the Republicans. However there was a worrying report from Princeton researchers who showed that one could easily hack into the Diebold machines and replace voting records with your own made up ones and have it erase all your tracks. For the most problem the worrying things about electronic machines is that they can be tampered with so easily. For example in Washington State in 2004 the Republicans were up 2000 votes in the governors race. Later a batch of votes were discovered which lowered the lead to around 200 then more ballots were discovered and still more until the Democrat had a comfortable lead. Until we fix this fraud we might as well go back to the ballot box and the last minute comebacks. A paper receipt for everyone is a must as well as a way for people to check that their votes were counted. The cost of giving people a random, secret number to search a database with to check how their votes were tallied. Of course you could just switch to paper ballots. The possibility for fraud is increased but the possibility of error is reduced and combined with this database we could have security.

Voter error is actually the least of the problems. It generally doesn’t make a difference because it is pretty random. Even a huge number of errors is unlikely to swing a race by more than a few hundred votes. However, simply showing people what they have voted would reduce the fraud by a large factor and eliminate the problem of people’s votes becoming meaningless.

I personally favor the low-tech options because they are cheap and simple. A paper ballot can’t be hacked and a inkstained finger can’t be forged. But, anything is better than the way we currently run our elections.

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