Maybe election won't be a fiasco after all

We've been reporting stories from around the country on primary elections generally characterized as fiascos. And preparations for the general election don't look much better.

We've been reporting stories from around the country on primary elections generally characterized as fiascos. And preparations for the general election don't look much better.

But, the Christian Science Monitor offers in a piece today, that the situation is considerably brighter than it might appear.

In fact, experts report the system is improving overall, even as intense scrutiny of problems threatens to undermine voter confidence in the accuracy of elections. An analysis published earlier this year by Charles Stewart, head of the political science department at MIT, found that a reduction in the "residual vote rate" - blank votes and over-votes in which too many votes are cast - led to the counting of an additional 1 million ballots in 2004, compared with 2000.

Stewart credits upgrading of voting machines with much of the improvement. Three of the four states with big declines - Florida, Georgia, and Illinois - made significant upgrades in their voting machines in the intervening years.

"The positive message I'm trying to bring is that if we focus on a particular problem, we can make progress," says Stewart. The problem with voting machines "hasn't been perfectly handled, but bottom line, more people were enfranchised as a consequence of what we did over the last four years."

But Nov. 7 will be the Big Show, in which we will finally see whether electronic voting technology can stand the pressure testing of a national, high-turnout election. Performance during the primaries certainly give pause. A big issue in the primaries was the new paper audit trail features, which 27 states required this year, compared to only one in 2004.

During the primaries, some of the reported problems were attributed to jammed printers and improperly loaded paper, making some backup ballots uncountable.

As a result of this and other problems, some officials have called for a return to paper ballots, or at least the option of using them. In Colorado, the state Democratic Party has called on voters to use absentee ballots after a judge concluded that the state had failed to establish minimum security standards for electronic voting machines.

Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org says there will only be a few places where closeness of the race and technical problems will come together.
"Let's be honest, some won't crash because they aren't close. Places where they're close, the system won't fail. The places where both come together, it will be quite a show."