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Why American voters prefer traditional ballot over EVMs

Last updated on: November 2, 2012 21:58 IST

Why American voters prefer traditional ballot over EVMs

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Bikash Mohapatra

Rediff.com's Bikash Mohapatra, who is in the US to cover the presidential election, finds out that the American voter does not really trust the electronic voting machine.

It is a cumbersome process.

It involves a lot of paperwork.

And frankly speaking it is quite obsolete, more so when you take into account the fact that it happens in the United States, arguably the most developed country in the world.

However, it also happens to be the reality when it comes to elections in the United States. The Americans, despite being technologically equipped, prefer the traditional ballot, quite a departure from other major democracies, like our very India, where electronic voting machines have more or less become the order of the day.

"People prefer the traditional way because they can be more certain," explains Travis Abercrombie, a public information coordinator in Hillsborough County.

"In fact, in the last elections (2008) electronic voting was used on a large scale and there were many cases of flawed response," he continues, adding, "For example, one woman voted for (John) McCain but the machine indicated (Barack) Obama and it is one of many such issues.

"When it comes to the traditional ballot people mark by hand and if there is an error they know who is responsible for that."

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Image: A completed ballot paper goes through the scanner. Once the document is scanned, the Election Zero Report -- a confirmation that a candidate's vote has been registered -- comes out from the top left of the machine
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com

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Voters don't mind that the ballot contains a lot of questions

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It is not that the whole process is manual. Once the ballot has been marked by a voter it has to be put through a machine so that the vote gets registered, resulting in a confirmation sheet otherwise called the Election Zero Report.

However, it is the affinity to the 'good ol' ballot' that make the US elections retain that old charm, this despite the fact that electronic voting machines were introduced in the country way back in the 1960s -- the first country to do so. Voters don't seem to mind that the ballot contains a lot of question, some of them plain silly, and it takes a lot of time to fill it.

Election officials admit they expect a long queue of voters to line up on Election Day to cast their ballot. This in turn requires extra time for the officials (read shift extensions), immaculate accuracy -- any gaffe can lead to severe consequences -- and palpably a lot of paper work.

"You're telling me," retorts Travis when asked regarding the excess of paper in use. "There are a lot of things to be done manually (and accurately)," he adds. To ease out the pressure to an extent the authorities have come up with concepts like vote by mail -- where a registered candidate is mailed a ballot and doesn't have to appear physically at the polling station -- and early voting -- which is self-explanatory. However, there's a glitch.

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Image: A sample of the ballot paper. It is an elaborate six-page document seeking all the details regarding the voter and his choice of candidate
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra/Rediff.com
Tags: , Travis , US

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'People want a paper copy that can be physical evidence'

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"In vote by mail, or what we call 'absentee voting,' the voters on most occasions are not certain if their vote has registered," explains Travis, adding, "while in early voting the process ends in advance and so people do miss out."

It also doesn't seem like that the whole process, which involves people coming to polling booth and ticking off boxes for their candidates of choice, is going to have a complete overhaul any time soon.

Advocates of electronic, or for that matter online voting, have so far not managed to get the support required. It also doesn't bode well for them when security experts opine that online voting is a very unsafe idea and the electronic voting machine is vulnerable to being hacked.

Most importantly, when it comes to the popular perception pertaining to elections, it is largely traditional in the country.

"People out here don't like the EVMs. They want a paper copy that can be physical evidence," explains Travis.

"They don't trust the machine," he adds.


Image: US President Barack Obama shows his drivers licence before casting his vote ballot early at the Martin Luther King Community Centre in Chicago
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Tags: Travis

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