February 05, 2007

'None of the above' a partial answer at best

A "none of the above" option on Florida ballots has been proposed as the answer to voters' doubts on the accuracy and reliability of electronic voting machines. It's an old idea that's getting a new look.

The Palm Beach Post recently editorialized:

The Legislature could eliminate the chance of another Sarasota County-style election controversy by requiring a simple addition to the ballot: "None of the above."

"None of the above" wouldn't be some '60s-style guerrilla ambush sprung on today's politicians. It would be a way to make sure that voters have indicated their intention when they leave the voting booth.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, would add the choice to every race. [ .... ]

The only reason for this reasonable solution not to pass is the worry among politicians that they would get more votes than their opponent but lose to "none of the above." [ .... ]

Touch-screen machines already get their fair share of abuse from voters who don't trust them and want a verifiable paper trail. Where touch-screens can excel, however, is in eliminating voter error. With touch screens, overvotes have been confined to the past. A simple addition like "none of the above" can do the same with mystery undervotes.

Count me as one of those voters who want a verifiable paper trail. Adding another option to every race and issue on the ballot - and creating an even longer ballot in the process - is a feel-good solution that fails to address fully the basic issues: the reliability of touch-screen machines, and the skills and integrity of the people who program and use them.

Voters already exercise, with great regularity, the no-vote preference: staying at home or submitting an incomplete ballot. Adding the empty set to the ballot might remind voters of an overlooked race, but reminders of overvotes and undervotes can easily be programmed into the computer, whether or not "none of the above" is made an option.

Implementation of a "none of the above" alternative might help officials account for undervotes - but it also could lead to a false sense of security. It certainly would not change election results or address fraud. Would questioning of election results become more difficult if total votes in individual races matched - or were made to match - the number of ballots cast? And, if numbers did not match, how would extra voting options on the ballot assist in determining the reasons?

Elections officials possess limited or questionable tools for investigating and resolving discrepancies that arise from paperless ballots and voting records. If "none of the above" reduces undervotes, it could be a small step in the right direction, but only if the change does not become a substitute for proper monitoring and verification - and that still requires a paper trail.

Update, Feb. 7, 2007 . . .

No comments: