In VA, paperless voting but no shortage of paper

In close election, vote counters wade through paper printouts, staples, flash drives, and more. Meanwhile, voters are not too pleased with receiptless elections.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

While it looks like the super-tight vote for Virginia senator will be settled once and for all today in favor of Democrat Jim Webb - giving the Democrats control of both the House and Senate - the past several days of counting have highlighted that elections in the age of electronic touch-screen voting technology are hardly paper-free, The Washington Post points out.

You might ask: Where are the votes? You know, the ballots ? It is an antiquated question, like asking directions to the nearest smithy or cooper or farrier. The votes are in many forms. Some electronic voting machines produce a record in the form of a paper tape, much like a cash register receipt, which is stapled to the Statement of Results from each precinct.

There are also USB flash drives, the little computer doohickeys not even as big as a Pez dispenser. These come from the WINvote electronic voting machines, and are kept in large white envelopes marked 7B and packed into a cardboard box that, as of 3 p.m. yesterday, was sitting on the floor of Room 317.2 ("Work Room," said the sign by the door).

It now looks like the count of the close election went off without a hitch but not without some rough spots for elections officials.

There is yet another redundancy, she said: The machines record an image of each ballot, which can be printed out if necessary. But she hopes it won't be necessary, as she has enough paperwork on her hands as it is.

"I estimated it would be 53 miles of paper for Fairfax County if we had to print every ballot," Fairfax County elections manager Judy Flaig said. "We're concerned that would be one more thing to argue about, and we'd have a Florida every time we voted."

By the Post reporter's informal survey, Virginia voters are not happy with paperless voting.

Valerie Bonham had just finished making her selections when the machine abruptly spit out her voting card and gave her an error message. It was that most dreaded thing in electronic balloting: The glitch . She told the election officials, and Chief Judge Salome Creighton tried to reprogram her card by referring to a sheet of paper titled Using the Encoder. The judge tried inserting the card into the Encoder, which was just a little sleevelike thing with buttons on it. She also got on the phone and called another election official.

"I don't say 'yes' when it is asking me 'create'?" Creighton said into the phone.

The Encoder eventually behaved, and Bonham cast her ballot.

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