We knew that voting is as important as pumping gas
We never doubted that it was possible to create an affordable electronic voting system that would be easy for Ohioans to use and would provide a printed record of the vote.
More than a year ago, we editorialized that if every gasoline pump in the state that takes a credit card can offer a printed receipt, voting machines ought to be able to do so.
This was not a popular position among some state and local election officials. Paper trails for touchscreen voting were impractical and unnecessary, we were told.
We weren't convince, and neither were a lot of other people, including the Ohio General Assembly, which voted to require that touchscreen voting machines in the state produce a paper record.
There are three good reasons for requiring a paper trail on video voting machines. It guards against purposeful tampering with recording mechanisms inside the computer, it provides a back-up in case of a failure of components within the computer and it gives voters peace of mind that the vote they cast was recorded properly and is not subject to loss through accident or fraud.
What took so long?
The amazing thing is that some election officials had to be dragged on to the right side of the issue and that many voting machine companies were content to tell secretaries of state and boards of elections that they couldn't provide reliable and affordable electronic voting machines with paper printouts. These voting machines weren't being asked to do half the things a supermarket cash register does: it tallies up your purchases, produces a paper receipt, spits out a coupon or two based on the purchases you just made and sends a record of the entire transaction to a corporate database -- so that another computer can send you more coupons in the mail.
In the face of the industry's recalcitrance, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell announced in January that all 88 counties would have to select a system using paper ballots and optical-scanning devices.
Last week, Blackwell reversed himself, saying that at least one company -- Canton-based Diebold -- is now offering an affordable touchscreen machine with print-out capabilities.
That's good news, but long overdue. And it remains troubling that so many people in government and industry were cavalier about the need to make voters feel secure in the knowledge that their votes count -- and would be properly counted.