DON'T FORGET BUTTERFLIES AND CHAD
When former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrews walked into the auditorium at the California Secretary of State's Office on Wednesday, he said it felt as if he'd stepped in from "another planet."
On Andrews' planet, the biggest worries about voting rights and fair elections have to do with antiquated, error-prone voting systems that produce high rates of spoiled ballots and votes incorrectly cast. Andrews headed up the Democratic team overseeing the counting of contested ballots in Florida after the 2000 presidential election. For all the partisan acrimony that experience engendered, Andrews said the real problem was that on so many ballots the intent of the voters who cast them was just plain uncertain. "I sat there at those tables with people who were trying to do the right thing, Democrats and Republicans," he said. "The problem was, in so many cases, you just couldn't tell."
In the aftermath of that experience, the consensus in the nation was "never again." Subsequently, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, and allocated nearly $4 billion to help state and county elections officials replace outdated polling equipment with computerized devices that make voting easier and reduce the incidence of error.
Recent months, however, have seen what Andrews called "the Naderization" of the issue. Progressive groups have suddenly rebelled against touch-screen voting systems, concerned with hypothetical problems of hackers who could corrupt the vote-counting software. In their zeal for perfection, he argues, these corporate-conspirarcy-fearing Naderites are seeking a return to paper-based systems that have a proven history of disenfranchising large numbers of minority and low-income voters.
"There was a 5-to-7 percent error rate on punch-card ballots in Florida," he said.
Andrews said that, while he understands why some are asking for a paper trail that could be used to audit computerized vote returns, a return to paper ballots would be a step backward. "If the piece of paper becomes the actual ballot," he said, "then what we've created with touch-screen terminals is a $1,500 pencil."
Andrews intends to testify before the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel today. He said he understands he has become something of a "Nixon in China" figure — a Democrat defending the high-tech voting systems that arouse suspicion from so many in his party. The critics in his party need to develop some faith in the power of the marketplace, Andrews said. Manufacturers of voting systems are exactly "like people who build airplanes: They only make money if their systems are secure."