In Computerizing Voting, Memory Would Help
July 3, 2003
The message turned up in my electronic mailbox with the mortgage-rate come-ons and the dieting deals. It seemed no more significant than the usual spam.
"The most important legislation this year," was the hyperbolic headline in the "subject" field. I could not have guessed this would have some truth.
It was a pitch for legislation that would require governments to ensure that their voting systems, especially new computer systems that election officials are rushing to buy, produce a paper record so voters are able to verify that their ballot has been properly recorded before they leave the polls. The record would be kept locked to provide a backup in recounts, an old-fashioned double-check to make sure newfangled technology hasn't run amok.
This idea is a simple safeguard of democracy. Its virtue lies in common sense - it's not for nothing that your ATM offers a receipt. After all, the computers that are now thought to be the salvation of the election system have no immunity from viruses, software glitches, programming problems, hacking and plain old human error.