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TN Looks at Voting Machines You can "Count" On

January 14, 2008

Nashville, TN – Electronic is not the wave of the future -- at least, not when it comes to voting. That's the conclusion of a report to be examined this week by a Tennessee legislative committee.

For years, most Tennessee counties have used the so-called "black box" electronic voting machines that have no verifiable "paper trail," so there's no way to do recounts or audits. The report recommends moving toward paper-based optical scan systems for this fall's elections.

A Nashville filmmaker agrees. David Earnhardt produced "Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections," a documentary about how electronic voting in the nation's last three elections not only opened the door to fraud, but also let some votes simply go uncounted. After interviewing people hired to write programs to "flip" votes, Earnhardt says a paper trail and auditing are needed to restore voter confidence.

"If we go to an ATM and can get a paper record for what we've done there, it only makes sense that we should be able to get that with our voting machines."

Some legislators complain there isn't enough time or money to change Tennessee's voting systems, because almost every county uses the type of electronic machine that leaves no paper trail. However, Earnhardt says at least $35 million is available through the "Help America Vote Act" to pay for making the changes.

Legislation is also on the table to mandate voter-verified paper ballots and random post-election audits. Earnhardt agrees these are the kinds of guarantees voters need to hear before going to the polls this fall.

"Clearly, we had a lot of problems in 2000; we had a lot of problems in 2004; there were more problems in the 2006 election. So, it bodes a healthy warning for 2008."

The Voter Confidence Act Legislative Study Committee meets Thursday to discuss the report.

Information about the documentary is available online, at

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - TN