Next step in e-voting: printers that don't jam

Most voters want paper audit trails, but many of the machines that were added to e-voting machines jam or chew up the receipts.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

The widespread use of e-voting machines yielded a backlash among voters. Most election officials have opted for system that include a paper audit trail, so voters can check that their votes were entered in the electronic machine as intended.

But that solution is creating another low-tech glitch, AP reports - the old-fashioned paper jam.

Machines in some California, Missouri and Mississippi precincts jammed. In Guilford County, N.C., where the paper record would be used in a recount, an audit of a sample of machines showed 9 percent of printers that were supposed to record touch-screen votes either didn't work properly or had paper problems.

"How many votes were lost as a result of that, with the printer chewing it up?" asked George Gilbert, elections director for the county that includes Greensboro, N.C. "If you don't have a complete paper record, you can't use it for a recount."

And so a new technological challenge appears: dependable, reliable paper printers.

"This isn't what we had in mind when we called for paper," said Johns Hopkins University computer scientist Avi Rubin, who has studied the security of voting machines. "I have yet to see a paper trail system I like."

Most of the current printers are jerry-rigged systems that e-voting vendors added on to e-voting machines to satisfy concerns of elections officials. Only five states - Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina - use paperless e-voting.

An advisory panel to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission recently called for states to change to independently verifiable voting devices, but advised against using the thermal printers now widely used by touch screens. While many printers performed well during this year's elections, some had problems. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, is considering dropping its touch-screen machines after an audit of paper record samples from the May primary found 10 percent of paper ballots were either smeared, torn, crumpled or blank. In some precincts, the paper record count and the machine count were off by considerable amounts.

In Maryland, voting officials are loathe to junk $70 million worth of Diebold equipment.

Maryland spent $70 million on Diebold touch screen machines and some election officials question why it should be abandoned in favor of scanners. "If we wanted to have paper, we could have stayed with the old machines," said Barbara Fisher, elections director for Anne Arundel County, which includes Annapolis, the state capital.
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