Connecticut's lever voting machines do not meet new federal standards,
which take effect in 2006. The voting machines must be replaced. They
fail to produce a permanent paper record of all ballots cast and to
provide for private and independent voting by the handicapped.
people assume that replacements will be touch-screen DRE (direct
electronic recording) machines. The state has received bids for a
contract to put one DRE machine in each voting district. Towns will be
permitted to buy additional DRE machines under that contract.
machines have many drawbacks, and numerous problems have been reported
in states using them. They are fragile and difficult to maintain and
likely to become rapidly obsolete.
But the biggest problem is
lack of transparency. The state's request for proposals for new voting
machines does not require a paper trail.
The electronic ballot
inside the machine is invisible to the voter and election officials
alike. No one can be sure if it differs from what the voter sees on the
screen. No one can be sure whether the printout at the end of the day
corresponds to the ballot cast by the voter. If there are errors, we
cannot fix them. We cannot do a meaningful recount, because there is no
individual record of voter intent. There is just too much uncertainty.
machines can be made more trustworthy by producing a paper record that
voters can verify for correctness before casting the ballot. The
voter-verified paper record supports meaningful recounts, protects
against over- or undercounting and fraud, and provides a means to check
the accuracy of the tally. Wending its way through the legislature,
Senate Bill 55 would require any voting machines used in the state to
produce such a paper record. It has broad support among members of both
parties and the secretary of the state, and its passage will be a cause
Even with voter-verified paper records, DRE
machines are still not a good solution for the state. They are
expensive to buy, maintain and store and complicated to administer.
Many other states are turning away from DRE machines in favor of
simpler optical scan systems.
A precinct-count optical scan
system uses printed paper ballots on which voters mark their
selections. Able voters mark the ballots by hand. Handicapped voters
use a computerized ballot-marking device. Either way, the ballot is
then scanned and checked for errors, which the voter is allowed to
correct. Once the ballot is accepted, the scanner adds the votes to its
totals and places the ballot in a locked ballot box, ready for use
later in case of a recount.
Study after study has shown that
optical scan systems are far cheaper than fully equipped DRE polling
places. A polling place that would require nine DRE machines to
accommodate 3,000 voters would need only a single ballot scanner and a
single ballot marking device using optical scan technology. It doesn't
take a deep analysis to realize that nine pieces of computerized
equipment will be far more expensive and difficult to manage than two.
costs are added up, the results are astounding. For the state as a
whole, the all-DRE solution costs $42 million; optical scan $24
million. These are only the initial costs. They ignore the costs that
towns must bear in storing and maintaining the delicate electronic
The state has received $32.7 million in federal funds
to upgrade its voting systems. This money is adequate to provide an
optical scan solution to all towns, with funds left over for important
voter education and poll-worker training. However, under the current
plan, the only voting systems eligible for reimbursement are DRE
machines. Towns wanting optical scan systems will have to find their
own funds to pay for them. Once the federal funds have been spent, even
towns wanting DRE machines will have to use scarce local or state funds.
It's time to scrap the DRE plan and start over with new bids for a solution to the state's voting needs.
J. Fischer is a computer science professor at Yale University and
founder of TrueVoteCT.org, a nonpartisan group of Connecticut voters
advocating for verifiable voting.