Jim Beam column:What’s latest on our voting?
Published 6:22 am Thursday, August 18, 2022
Louisiana is trying for the third time to buy new voting machines, and its effort made national headlines Sunday. The third effort, unfortunately, has been slowed by former President Donald Trump, whose continued claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him have been totally discredited in the courts and everywhere else.
The Associated Press reported that the need for Louisiana to replace its voting machines isn’t in dispute. New machines are badly needed, primarily because current ones don’t produce paper trails that help back up election results.
Louisiana’s current machines are a direct recording electronic (DRE) voting system from Dominion Voting Systems. That is the company involved in the conspiracy theories pushed by Trump and his followers. Dominion has filed defamation lawsuits against conservative media outlets and those who push Trump’s theories.
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DREs, like those made by Dominion, employ computers that record votes directly into the computers’ memory. There has never been a major problem with the company’s machines in Louisiana. They just don’t produce the paper trail that is essential.
Act 480 of the Legislature’s 2021 session ensures the state won’t be using DREs any longer. It says prior law defined both voting machines and electronic voting machines. The new law consolidates that definition to “voting machine” only and removes references to “electronic voting machines” in prior law.
Lynn Jones, Calcasieu Parish clerk of court, summed up the current situation well when he said earlier this summer, “It would be a travesty to let a minority of people who have little to no experience in election administration tear down an exceptional process that was painstakingly built over many, many years. And for us to throw it out of the window because of unfounded theories is mind-boggling.”
Jones is right, but because of that new law Louisiana is going to have to use a different election system from the one currently in use. Ballotpedia talks about two other systems in wide use.
The optical scan paper ballot system has voters marking their votes by filling in an oval, box, or similar shape on a paper ballot. The paper ballots are then scanned and tabulated either at the polling place or at a central location.
Ballot-marking devices (BMDs) were developed for voters with disabilities, but they are becoming more widely used by all voters. Voters make their choices on a machine that produces a readable paper ballot that can either be hand-counted or tabulated by optical scan. There is no lasting record of the voter’s selections on the machine.
Nine states use mail ballots for all voters. Some of them have Election Day voting centers and use BMDs for disabled voters and others use BMDs for all voters.
Some states use hand-marked paper ballots, BMDs and DREs. They either hand-count the votes or use optical scanners to tabulate the results. Some have Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) of the votes and some don’t.
South Carolina uses BMDs for all voters and its Election Commission explained why. It said they offer many of the benefits of touch screen voting machines while providing the assurance and security of a paper ballot.
The commission said hand-marked paper systems aren’t accessible for voters with disabilities and require them to vote with assistance or on a device different from other voters.
Those who have swallowed Trump’s unfounded allegations hook, line, and sinker (without hesitation or reservation) are promoting the use of hand-counted paper ballots.
The AP reported that Kyle Ardoin, Louisiana secretary of state, has dismissed hand-counting as something that would “extend elections over years.”
John Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state, said he once served as an international observer in Russia and had seen hand-counting of ballots up close.
“If you’d like to have an orientation about how that goes, that is the easiest way to cheat that you can introduce to anybody,” Merrill said. “I can assure you that’s not a direction that you want to go. The people who are promoting that are ignorant or ill-informed, period.”
As a newsman who has covered and followed Louisiana elections for over 60 years, I like what David Ditch, the clerk of court for Iberia Parish, had to say.
“Everybody — every political persuasion and everybody that comes into my office —says the same thing, ‘We love the way we vote now. We just wish we had something to prove it in the end.”
Louisiana’s election commission has recommended the use of either hand-marked or machine-marked ballots, or a combination of the two, and for the state to keep electronic tabulators for counting ballots.
Forget the hand-marked ballots; I’d rather use one of those BMDs.