I voted in Maryland on Tuesday, in a suburb of Washington, DC. We used the electronic touch screen voting machines. The experience went smoothly, was straightforward and pleasant enough.
But when I got to the end of voting I hit the button that tells me to submit my ballot. After doing that, I expected the machine to print out a record of my votes. But nothing was printed. That was it. I walked away, asked a poll worker if there was anything else I was to do and he said, "nope, that's all."
As I sit after midnight watching the election results roll in, here is something I simply do not understand: Why do the electronic touch screen machines not print out a paper record of votes?
As I type this, the networks have called the Maryland Senate race for Ben Cardin (D) over Michael Steele (R). But the Washington Post, which had called the race for Cardin, has now withdrawn its call. Moreover, Steele is not conceding. This race is very close and, even though the polls have been closed in Maryland for hours, the winner is still not clear.
And so I wonder why there is no paper record.
ATM machines print out paper records. Gas pumps print paper records. Avis rental car return attendants print out paper records. Amtrak ticket machines print paper records. But not voting machines?
It may be when all is said and done Cardin will win by a large enough margin, Steele will concede and there will be no questions. But I keep thinking about something my colleague Glenn Reynolds wrote in his last column about election fraud before the election: "I also hope... that we'll see a real move to make sure both that the process of voting, and the process of counting votes, is improved."
After voting in this election, I can only conclude the process of voting is easier in many respects, which is good. But the process of counting votes can't possibly be said to have improved when there is no paper record.
UPDATE - A reader named Steve writes in: "I used to think a paper trail for voting would be a good idea. It would be great to go home and look up your vote on the web using a serial number that couldn't be traced to you. But upon further reflection, I think it is a bad idea. The problem is that an employer or union boss or other party could demand to see your receipt as proof that you voted they way he wanted you to vote. This would be illegal, of course, but the fact is it would certainly happen."