Worst. Voting. Machine. Ever.

Today I voted and it made me angry. Why? Because Arlington uses electronic voting machines that do everything wrong.

When I first started voting, some 23 years ago, it was on a standard paper ballot. That was in Ohio. Since then, I’ve mostly voted in Washington, D.C, where I lived for about 20 years. Now I vote in Arlington, Virginia.

For all D.C. does wrong, it does voting well. At least, it has for the last few elections.The method is simple enough: you get a paper ballot and a pencil and connect broken arrows for the person you’re voting for. It looks a little like this:

When you’re done voting, you feed the ballot into a scanner and it records your votes. The biggest problems with this system are with stray or incomplete marks (i.e., determining voter intent) and wanting to make ballots multi-lingual.

Arlington “solves” this problem with electronic voting machines. You use a touch screen to select your candidate and record your vote. The screen looks like this:

Seriously. The space around the name you select turns red along with a giant red X. I can’t be the only person for whom this says, “NO! Big mistake! You’ve done something terribly wrong!”

It seems patently obvious that the color should be green and the X should be replaced with a check mark.

But that’s only part of the problem. When you click the submit button, you’re done. That’s it. You have to trust that the vote has been recorded properly. Some have suggested a paper “receipt,” but that wouldn’t mean anything, as a computer could easily increase the tally for Robin Hood by one vote and print out a receipt showing that you voted for Little John.

Understand that I don’t have a problem with electronic voting per se. Touch screens can be more easily updated, offer multiple languages, and be easier for some people to use. But, it can’t be the sole source of the ballot.

Instead, it should print out the completed ballot itself, which you could visually verify. Then you could walk that ballot over to a scanner where it could be counted. The paper ballot would remain the official vote.

This would be the best of both worlds. What Arlington has now is the worst. And you can put that in red. With a giant X next to it.

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One Reply to “Worst. Voting. Machine. Ever.”

  1. Thank you for writing about this important subject. Most computer engineers agree with your assessment of touch screen voting machines. They are easily hacked to flip an entire election, and without detection. There is no reliable means of auditing the results they produce–even if they are equipped with a “voter-verifiable audit tape.” (Most voters don’t review the tape, and it too often jams to the point that even technicians can’t remove it intact. ) Yet in state after state these machines are still being used. Paper ballots are much more secure. But we are up against the perception that because the machines are “high tech” they must be better than the simple method of voting with pen and paper. We have been working to outlaw touch-screen voting in Missouri. I hope you and your Arlington neighbors are working to do so there!


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