Voting in the Netherlands is now officially a process of hand-counted,hand-marked paper ballots. Why wouldn’t this work in the U.S. as well? A fair question...

Before we address that, let me say that I've been crazy busy, and have missed a number of opportunities to post comments on a number of recent developments in the world of voting. Here is one for instance, for which my colleague, our CTO had already prepped some thoughts. He is currently traveling to New Haven, CT. for the Computers Freedom & Privacy Conference, where I will join him this coming Friday as we present this panel on the potential of open sourcing digital voting technology.

Here are his comments on the recent development in the Netherlands WRT e-voting. I can't add any more to John's remarks, so here they are unfettered by mine...

From John Sebes, OSDV Foundation CTO:

So, voting in the Netherlands is now officially a process of hand-counted, hand-marked paper ballots. Why wouldn’t this work in the U.S. as well?

It’s a fair question, particularly since the Dutch government effectively banned electronic voting machines a while back, after having seen nearly complete adoption of e-voting by 2006. The complete about-face of 2 years ago has now been confirmed with a retreat from the possibility of developing safer computing systems for voting. The reason? No bang for the buck. A statement from the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that the previously considered development new voting systems has "insufficient added value over voting by paper and pencil".

While some in the U.S. would agree with the Dutch government, most American elections officials don’t. What’s the difference? One way to see the difference is to look at a typical Dutch ballot, which has one race in which the voter can select one of usually many candidates for the one office, either a municipal district representative or a federal legislative representative. In the Dutch system of government, those are just about the only offices that a voter votes for, and not that often either, with federal representatives having a 4-year term.

With a ballot that simple, hand counting is quite feasible, and can be done quickly enough to satisfy the desire for speedy results. The counting process is also simple enough and decentralized enough that officials of many Dutch political parties can observe the counting process for each of the Dutch municipal elections organization, as a deterrent against potential election fraud.

I expect that many American elections officials secretly envy the tidy little elections that the Dutch have. By contrast, many U.S. citizens can elect literally dozens of officials from the President right down to the proverbial town dog catcher. Many counties have several dozen distinct ballots, often one distinct ballot per precinct. Hand counting would be a human error prone nightmare on that basis alone, to say nothing of the added complexity of provisional ballots, mail in ballots, ballots voted in the wrong precinct so that only some votes are valid, and so on.

Does that justify the use of wide variety of seemingly error prone elections equipment in the U.S. today? Perhaps not, but it has been so long since hand-count, hand-marked elections were conducted at any scale in the U.S. that no one can really compare cost or benefit. So, electronic voting we do have, and so the technology really ought to do the job particularly well, boost confidence, and not create sole reliance on the technology.

We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it. And in mean time my Dutch friends just say “No thanks, just hand me a pencil would you?

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