The Scanners Are Coming, but Not Quite Yet


Congressional leaders are delaying a planned overhaul of the nation's voting system, deciding it was overambitious given the impending, earlier-than-usual primary season. Instead of forcing states to switch from touchscreen voting machines to optical scanners in time for the 2008 election, the current version of the bill would require little add-on printers, similar to those on cash registers, to create a paper trail. Critics worry that the printers will jam, the paper will tear, and the ink will smear. But I'm not alone in preferring the ATM-style machines: Optical scan ballots also face opposition from lobbies for disabled people, which demand that they be made easier to use before they're required everywhere. The New York Times story does not explain exactly what the accessibility issue is, so it's hard to tell how readily it can be fixed. Is the problem that filling in ovals with a pen takes more manual dexterity than pressing virtual buttons? Or is it something easier to correct, like the height of the slots on the ballot scanners?

Under the new plan, the Times reports, "New York, which has delayed replacing its old lever machines, would be the only state that would have to change its entire voting system by November 2008." Given the planned abandonment of touchscreen voting, which was supposed to correct the problems associated with punch cards but provoked new worries about security and verifiability, New York's hidebound attachment to antiquated technology looks farsighted.