Optical scan ballots not going away

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An enterprising participant in the tulsatime LiveJournal group worried when she saw a Request for Proposals on the Oklahoma State Election Board website for a "Telecommunications-based Statewide Voting System." Would this mean a switch from our reliable optical-scan ballot system to a touchscreen system? The link to the RFP was broken, so she wrote OSEB and asked what this was all about. The reply is reassuring:

Identical mark-sense optical scan voting devices manufactured by the Business Records Corporation (now Election Systems & Software) have been used in every precinct in the State of Oklahoma since 1992. As you know, these devices read paper ballots marked in the voter's own hand and preserve a complete and perfect paper audit trail. We do not have any plans to replace our optical scanners with direct recording electronic (touchscreen) devices, or with voting devices of any other type.

So what's this about a "telecommunications-based" voting system? It will allow a vision-impaired voter to go to his polling place, listen to an audio ballot on a telephone and vote by pressing buttons on a keypad. But the vote doesn't get recorded electronically:

The voting system then produces a marked paper ballot, which is scanned and read back to the voter, allowing the voter to confirm whether the paper ballot has been marked according to the way he or she voted. After the voter confirms that the ballot is correct, his or her vote is cast, and a paper ballot is tabulated by the same mark-sense optical scanning voting device used by all other voters statewide.

Here's the really clever bit (emphasis added):

Oklahoma's telephone voting system features a fundamental and innovative improvement over direct recording electronic (touchscreen) voting systems, including even those that provide accommodative telephone keypad input devices and voter verifiable receipts. Typically, a touchscreen voting device in audio mode will read back a voter's marked ballot, but the information read back to the voter is merely that which exists in the device's memory. The readback may confirm the voter's selections, but there is no way to say that the vote eventually cast is the same as that voted by the voter or read back by the voting device. But with Oklahoma's system, it is the paper ballot generated by the system that is scanned and read back to the voter, and it is the paper ballot that is tabulated by our mark-sense optical scanners, preserving the complete and perfect paper audit trail that most Oklahoma voters seem to prefer.

Hats off to the Oklahoma State Election Board for recognizing what makes our system so good and extending that principle in accommodating the right of vision-impaired voters to cast a secret ballot. That kind of perspicacity is a rare thing in government.

(Nevertheless, I'm still hoping for a scanner upgrade that will accommodate a preferential ballot. And for OSEB to put precinct-by-precinct results on their website.)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 30, 2006 11:40 PM.

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