30 September 2014

Charlie Crist, Florida's new Republican governor, will win points with voters across the nation for his recent proposal to abandon touch-screen voting machines. Florida's repudiation of the widely mistrusted machines could hasten an across-the-board abandonment — and thereby renew Americans' faith in the integrity of the vote.



Ever since the presidential election of 2000, Florida has been the poster child for controversial ballot counts. After the dispute was resolved, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, providing funds to replace outdated voting equipment.



Florida used its share to mothball the punch-card machines that had caused so many problems. But in many large counties, it replaced them with touch-screen systems that leave no paper trail. The drawbacks of these machines were dramatically illustrated last fall by a close congressional race in Sarasota, where 18,000 votes went unrecorded. The losing candidate, Democrat Christine Jennings, is pressing a challenge in court.



Currently, more than half the states require that their voting machines leave paper trails. Governor Crist wants to switch to paper ballots read by optical scanners. If the legislature approves, as expected, Florida will give new clout to a growing consensus. The optical-scan system is not perfect. But it is emerging as the most reasonably trustworthy approach. More than half of U.S. counties are now believed to be using optical scan systems. New Mexico recently switched to them, and Virginia will probably switch as its old touch-screen machines wear out.



It is appalling that American taxpayers were rushed into throwing away so many millions on untrustworthy voting systems. But it is better to change course now than to court new damage to the democracy.