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Stateside: How Is VVPAT Like ZZ Top?

Stateside with Rosalea

How is VVPAT like ZZ Top?

The front-page, above-the-fold news this weekend was the decertification of some electronic voting systems by California's Secretary of State. The text of his determinations are at ( and one of his key findings is that the DRE voting systems he has decertified don't produce an accessible VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) that enables a voter to independently verify, at the time they vote, how accurately that vote has been recorded.

Two of the key elements of the Secretary of State's solution to the problem - the costs of which will be borne by the vendors, not the state - are (1) voters are to be given the option of using a paper ballot instead, and (2) a paper version or representation of each ballot cast is to be printed out on paper, either at the time the ballot is cast or during the period allowed for the counting of the votes.

Obviously, the second choice given under (2) conflicts with the aim of having a voter independently verify *at the time they vote* how accurately that vote has been recorded. Hence the option for a voter to have access to a paper ballot instead of using a DRE, I suppose. Quelle breakfast du chien!

The simplest, most elegant solution to providing a VVPAT was one I heard at a meeting on this subject some months ago: use the touchscreen technology as a means of printing a machine-readable paper ballot that is also readable by human eyes, and then use an optical scanning device to actually count the vote.

The objection to that idea was that the traditional optical scan ballot used here often runs to several pages - you know, the ones that have circles you fill in next to every choice on the ballot.

But you don't have to use the touchscreen machine to reproduce the entire optical scan ballot. Instead, it could print out a card or paper strip like a supermarket receipt with just the names of those people you've chosen (and numbers for how you've ranked them, if that's an option), along with your yes/no choices on questions of that type. Alors! Monsieur Bob is your uncle!

The voter would get that in their hand to verify the details, and then feed it into the optical scanning equipment to be read and counted. That printout would then be used for the random checking of vote tallies that is mandated by law, and for any recounts.

There are some typefaces that are equally readable by human eyes and by machines - remember that funny fat'n'thin squarish typeface that was trendy for a while in the eighties? But even without that, optical character recognition has taken huge strides in recent years, as you can see if you just glance at the sample training materials on the website for the Association of Information and Image Managers at (click on ECM Certificate Program).

Some off-the shelf OCR products, such as ABBYY's Finereader, already deal with languages other than English, and that capablility could be adapted for use with voting equipment. Consideration for people with poor or no eyesight would also have to be made, but that must be true now anyway in those counties that use optical scanning equipment.

And why is VVPAT like ZZ Top? Because this topic really has got legs!


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