Today's editorial notes that despite several successful S.C. elections with paperless voting machines, concerns about the reliability of the electronic voting terminals won't go away:
How important is it - really - that voters be presented with a piece of paper verifying their participation in elections? According to the S.C. Election Commission, not very. But the agency hardly has an objective view of this issue.
A few years back, the commission mandated that all 46 S.C. counties use the iVotronic electronic voting system manufactured by Election Systems & Software. In reaching this decision, the commission turned a deaf ear to complaints that voters would lack confidence in a paperless voting system such as the iVotronic: How could a voter be sure that the voting terminal did what she or he told it to do?
Since then, several election cycles have passed. But this concern just won't go away.
It came up again here at home this week. Members of a special committee appointed in March to study local election problems said they wanted to recommend that the county's iVotronic machines be retrofitted with equipment to print receipts for voters. But because the retrofit would be expensive, they didn't.
At the same meeting where the committee delivered its report to an Horry County Council panel, an Election Commission spokesman said it would cost county taxpayers $700,000 to attach receipt printers to the county's voting terminals. He warned that the retrofits are subject to paper jams. In a meeting with The Sun News earlier this month, the same spokesman said adding printers to the voting terminals could compromise the secrecy of the ballot.
These may be valid points. But the special committee's report is only the latest evidence that S.C. voters find paperless voting to be eerie and unsettling. Voting, at heart, is an emotional experience. Even voters who have a sophisticated understanding of the iVotronic's architecture sometimes come away from the polls with a sense of futility.
They may be aware that their votes are recorded in a "ballot activator cartridge" affixed to the terminal. But they have to take on faith that when the polls close, election workers will hand-carry the cartridges to county election headquarters for computerized tallying, and that the computers will work right.
The manufacturer's literature says the cartridge eliminates "the need for a traditional paper ballot." There's an element of tech-speak arrogance in that assertion.
What voters really "need" is a rock-solid sense that their participation in our most important civic exercise made a difference. For some, digitized paperless voting does not provide it.
Like the members of the special election committee, we, too, stop short of recommending today that County Council find $700,000 to fit the county's iVotronic terminals with voter-receipt printers - for the same reason: cost.
Considering that there's no hard evidence the terminals have failed - for design reasons - anywhere in South Carolina, such an expenditure would strike many taxpayers as irresponsible. But if county residents, over time, can't get past the sense that they're voting on faith, not certitude, that their ballots will count, such an expenditure may someday make sense.