Despite compromise, paperless e-voting machines are history

Compromise standard allows existing paperless machines to stay but clearly states will see new paper trail systems as the gold standard.

On his blog Freedom to Tinker, Prof. Ed Felten praises the new standards approved by the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC).. While disappointed that the panel didn't require the removal of paperless e-voting machines, Felten thinks that states will phase out all-electronic machines in favor to the "state of the art" paper-equipped machines of the future.

There’s no scientific or security rationale for treating new and old machines differently, so this is clearly a political compromise designed to lower the cost of compliance by sacrificing some security. If you believe, as almost all computer scientists do, that paper trails are necessary today for security, you’ll be happy to see the requirement for new machines, but disappointed that existing paperless voting machines will be allowed to persist. Whether you see the glass as half full or half empty depends on whether you see the quest for paper trails as mainly legal or mainly political, that is, whether you look to courts or legislatures for progress.

Courts will be bound by the language of the standard, essentially precluding legal challenges to the continued use of paperless machines, Felten says. But legislatures will see the new standard as something to insist on:

The standard will be an official ratification of the fact that paper trails are preferable. The latest, greatest technology will use paper trails, and paperless designs will look old-fashioned. The exception for old machines will look like a money-saving compromise, and few legislators will want to be seen as risking democracy to save money. As for me, I see legislatures more than courts, and politics more than lawyering, as driving the trend toward paper trails. Thirty-five states either have a paper trail statewide or require one to be adopted by 2008. The glass is already 70% full, and the new standards will help fill it the rest of the way.


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