Testimony at U.S. Election Assistance Commission Hearing on Electronic Voting Systems

Testimony at U.S. Election Assistance Commission Hearing on Electronic Voting Systems

Providing every citizen an equal opportunity to register to vote, equal access to the polls, and assurance that every ballot cast is counted is a complex and daunting task. Success requires a broad range of reforms, some structural and some administrative. They include the repeal of felon disfranchisement laws, the elimination of pre-election day voter registration requirements, expanded language assistance for language minority voters, extensive voter education initiatives, comprehensive poll worker training, and the replacement of often antiquated and inaccessible voting machines with new electronic equipment.

The broiling debate over computerized voting systems and so-called voter verified paper trails (VVPTs) is at once important and distracting. While central concerns about ballot security and voter confidence must be resolved, that resolution must neither preempt consideration of other serious flaws in current election administration, nor obscure the promise of modern voting technology. Punch card, lever and other traditional voting systems must be replaced by new machines that overcome physical, cognitive and linguistic barriers to voting.
 
The current debate over VVPTs frequently conflates three fundamental issues: accessible voting systems, transparent electoral processes, and accurate vote tallying.  Any solution to the voting machine controversy must simultaneously address all three issues at once.  The most creative solutions will enable maximum accessibility to voting systems while preserving the transparency and integrity of the vote casting and vote counting processes. 
 
Recommendations
 
Demos offers the following suggestions for resolving the controversy over computer voting systems and voter verified paper trails:
 
  • Choose Direct Record Electronic Machines. 
  • Use voter verified paper trails with data-to-voice capabilities to boost public confidence and restore transparency to the election process.  
  • Use computerized voting systems that separate the voting casting from the vote counting functions.
  • Require open source code systems. 
  • Provide strong federal guidance. 
Back to Basics
 
It should be emphasized that the issue of accurately counting ballots is only one of many structural barriers to voting.  Other barriers: 
 
  • Affect who is eligible to register to vote 
  • Affect when a person can register 
  • Affect who can vote in practice 
  • Affect who wants to vote
The most fruitful approach to creating a healthy electoral democracy would be a holistic one  attending to the question of VVPTs in conjunction with these and other structural barriers to participation and representation.  Unless we rise to this challenge, our electoral democracy will remain impoverished and continue to exclude millions from participating in political life.