minutia press.

I have been in Jefferson City for the past two days serving on a committee to examine voting apparati to make recommendations concerning which could be suitable for use in our State. Missouri currently uses a conbimation of scanners and punch cards (in STL county, punch cards rule). Thanks to the Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA), we can consider changes to how we vote that make voting more accessible to people with disabilities. I can't and won't comment on vendors, but from a technical standpoint, this has been an interesting meeting.

First, there is the laudable but perhaps unrealistic goals of having a procedure that is identical and accessible to all. For those with impaired or missing sight, the procedure should offer the voter the same advanrages offered to those with sight. There are a number of systems that help people with poor sight vote. Those systems include displays with suitably increased readability (larger size, contrast) as well as sound to announce what is seen on the screen.

There has been much discussion about systems that capture votes digitally without a paper audit trail. My colleague at Stanford, David Dill, has been vocal about such machines being a step back from what we now use in terms of

It is likely that most people would prefer that their vote is somehow recorded (anonymously of course) on a stable medium such as paper. Systems that capture votes electronically provide a paper trail that can be inspected by the voter to make sure the vote was recorded properly on paper. Making those systems useful by those with poor sight is a problem.

And then, suppose there is an electronic system with the property that the probability of losing or miscounting a vote is some probability p. Suppose p is much lower than the probability of the same misfortune happening to a paper ballot (loss, fire, shredding, etc). It may be the case that a voter would still prefer paper because of its tactile and familiar properties.