Florida is ditching its touch-screen voting machines just a few years after buying them, opting for machine-scanned paper ballots instead. Various jurisdictions around the country have made similar decisions, and a bill that has strong congressional support would encourage others to follow suit. As one of the last remaining fans of ATM-style voting, I'm disappointed by its hasty abandonment. For flexibility and ease of use, no other method comes close, which is especially important if you're worried about incomplete and erroneous voting, Florida's two main concerns after the 2000 debacle of hanging chads and accidental votes for the wrong candidate. Despite all the jokes about how the elderly can't handle electronic devices, the uncluttered options and built-in verification ("You have selected Pat Buchanan. Is that what you meant to do?") of a well-designed electronic ballot avoid confusion and promote voter confidence. My most pleasant voting experience by far was with touch-screen machines in Virginia, where the state Senate recently approved a bill that would phase them out.
It's hard to believe that the two main concerns about electronic voting—vulnerability to tampering and the lack of a paper record—can't be addressed without abandoning touch-screen machines. When I use a self-checkout aisle at Home Depot, the machine produces a paper receipt as well as an electronic readout. These machines are heavily used and seem to be pretty reliable (except for occasionally obscured bar codes, which would not be an issue in voting). How hard is it to use something similar for voting, with the receipt dropping into a secure box? Some jurisdictions are adding printers to touch-screen machines to create a paper trail, which seems like the logical solution, although ideally the printer should be part of the original design. In addition to facilitating recounts, a paper record also would help avoid fraud, as would data backup and restrictions on access to each machine's memory. The scanners they will be using in Florida also store tallies electronically, so it's not as if they eliminate the need for data security. With proper precautions, it seems to me, the touch-screen method should be at least as secure as the alternatives.