ACM News Service: Carter-Baker Commission Weighs U.S. Voting Changes. It is interesting to learn of these seemingly high-minded approaches for adding trustworthiness to the election process, living in a state where the 2004 gubernatorial election remains in dispute and is slowly wending its way through the courts. What's clear here in King County, Washington, where we have optical mark-sense ballots, is that the logistics, human processes, and failures to preserve auditability put the benefits of a paper-record optical ballot as in doubt as any other choice. It is also a problem in that, at least during recounts, election workers will "enhance" ballots that are marked too faintly and sometimes too ambiguously so they will pass in the scanner. The handling of absentee and provisional ballots failed badly, to the point that one begins to wonder how going to an all-mail ballot system will work at all.
A critical aspect of the situation here is that all of the fact finding and research work, with persistent and determined use of FOI requests, has been conducted by citizens in response to the election office's lame observation that they are not responsible to assure the integrity of voting, the citizens must do that (e.g., challenge the eligibility of voters, find the ballots cast for the still-registered deceased, etc.). And we are in an era where citizens can do just that. Those who don't like the prospective outcome denigrate the partisan zealotry that accompanies this effort, forgetting that in our system it is difficult for an uninjured party to claim attention of the courts, let alone have any self-interest in so doing. So it has to be adversarial.
I think the triumph here is another for citizen activism and the redistribution of authority that weblogs are providing, especially when it takes the kind of determination and painstaking research that print journalists are not prepared to invest, for whatever reason. I also think that resolution of this particular election is going to provide the kind of serious case study that will be used as the basis for serious reform elsewhere. It could also inspire measures to make this kind of failure more difficult to recognize and counter-act. Let's keep watching.
Laurence Arnold's 2005-04-18 (updated) Bloomberg article reports on a number of national-election recommendations that would certainly be valuable here. What's missing, based on our experience in Washington State, is an appreciation for the corruptibility of the processes that occur away from the polling place. A wider system-level perspective seems important in these debates, which tend to fall into the solution space without identifying the overall problem space and what it takes to ensure the integrity of election systems all the way through reliable determination of a verifiable outcome.
[updated 2005-04-21T19:09Z because even I could not stand some of the fractured prose here [;<)]