It Doesn't Have to be a Zero Sum Game
Tomorrow's NY Times has a great editorial that illuminates why the argument that those who oppose Electronic Voting Machines (DREs) want to disenfranchise those with disabilities is false. As I noted here, one reason that there hasn't been the traction on the problems with DREs is that DREs are very attractive for the disabled community. This has caused a number of the standard groups who one would think would worry about whether all the votes were accurately counted, like the League of Women voters, to come out supporting the rapid acquisition of DREs to enable the disabled to vote more easily -- and to poo-poo the warnings of the computer science community reporting the problems with the current technology. Some advocates for the disabled have accepted a very large gift from Diebold in exchange for their endorsement of the unauditable DREs. (Isn't this somewhat like Nader accepting campaign funds from conservative groups who hope he will once more throw the election to their guy?)
The issue is whether electronic voting machines should provide a "paper trail" — receipts that could be checked by voters and used in recounts. There has been a rising demand around the country for this critical safeguard, but the move to provide paper trails is being fought by a handful of influential advocates for the disabled, who complain that requiring verifiable paper records will slow the adoption of accessible electronic voting machines.
The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, has been championing controversial voting machines that do not provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the machines' accessibility, but also to their security and accuracy — neither of which is within the federation's areas of expertise. What's even more troubling is that the group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, the machines' manufacturer, which put the testimonial on its Web site. The federation stands by its "complete confidence" in Diebold even though several recent studies have raised serious doubts about the company, and California has banned more than 14,000 Diebold machines from being used this November because of doubts about their reliability.
As the Times very sensibly concludes, this doesn't have to be a zero sum game. Both reliable and auditable DREs can be designed and deployed while keeping all the attributes that make the user interface work so well for the disabled.