The Help America Vote Act of 2002 made some people suspicious, including me. And it didn’t help when the Oklahoma State Election Board put out an RFP for a “Telecommunications-based Statewide Voting System” earlier this year.
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.
Their superior accuracy, reliability and audit capability notwithstanding, optical scan voting devices cannot be used conveniently by some persons with certain disabilities, including visual disabilities and motion impairments. For those voters, the act of hand-marking the ballot cannot be performed unaided in private. We are investigating other voting technologies to better serve those voters; however, we expect that any accommodative devices we integrate into the election system will be additions to not replacements for the existing optical scanners.
And that “telecommunications-based” system? Here’s how it works:
At the polling place, the voter listens to an audio ballot and votes the ballot by pressing keys on a telephone keypad. 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.
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.
I believe this calls for a “Yay us!”