Voting machines are never perfect, but Ohio has reasonable safeguards

Could voting machines supplied by a company with ties to Mitt Romney be programmed to produce a big vote for Romney in all-important Ohio?

The blogosphere has been crackling with speculation about such a scenario because two Cincinnati-area counties use voting machines provided by Hart InterCivic, a company whose board includes three executives of a firm led by prominent Romney campaign donors and linked financially to the candidate’s son, Tagg.

Let’s all stop and take a deep breath here.

The Hart-Romney connection certainly looks unseemly, but there are good reasons to have confidence that the Hart machines will count every vote as cast and that Ohio’s returns on Election Night will reflect the true sentiments of Buckeye State voters.

Here’s why.

As part of our longstanding voting integrity program, Common Cause recently reviewed how various states deal with voting system malfunctions, whether caused by malicious code, hardware failures, or basic programming errors. We found that Ohio is among the states best positioned to catch such problems.

The voting machines used by Ohioans produce a paper record. At Common Cause, we believe that every voting machine should produce a paper ballot or paper record which the voter can review.  The record means that if the machine count is corrupted, there is always something set aside that can be used for a recount – something independent that the voter has seen.

Ohio has a good system for using paper ballots to audit its machines; we’re working with the state elections director to make that system stronger.  We believe that paper ballots should be used to audit voting machines. These audits involve hand counting of a random sample of paper ballots and comparing the result to the machine count. A recent post-election audit in Palm Beach County, FL caught a software bug that was flipping votes from one candidate to the other.  The finding triggered a full hand count that reversed the initial election result and installed the correct winner.

Ohio has good procedures for ballot accounting and reconciliation. Election officials in the Buckeye State have policies in place for checking on phantom votes (more votes cast than voters) or undervotes.

All these steps are vital to ensuring that authorities and elections observers can catch any software bug, malicious code, or machine malfunction that causes a miscount.

In a recent report, Counting Votes 2012, we ranked all 50 states on their election technology, placing Ohio and just five other states in the highest category overall.

Of course, no system is perfect. We know machines can fail. That is why we have worked with state election directors for years to put reforms in place. We’re continuing those efforts, in Ohio and around the country

In this home stretch of the 2012 campaign, let’s focus on helping our friends and family and members of our community vote.  Let’s dispel confusion and fear. Let’s stand up and have our say.


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