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Another year of vote-counting anxiety?

Attorney Eric J. Sinrod says that as traditional ballots fade out, we must be sure their tech replacements are up to task.

Before the 2000 presidential election, practically nobody would have predicted that in a country of tens of millions of voters, a major election could turn on just a few hundred votes.

Thus, ahead of election day that year, any potential for inaccuracies or irregularities in vote counting did not loom large as a real issue.

Of course, as we now know, every singe vote in that election truly mattered. Who can forget the hanging and dimpled chads, the uncertainty for weeks as to who won the election, and the multiple lawsuits all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court? And quite ironically, the very U.S. Supreme Court that had supported states rights took away the Florida Supreme Court results in favor of Al Gore and effectively resolved the election in favor of George W. Bush, even though history tells us that Gore nationally received over 500,000 votes more than did Bush.

The number of counties using hand-counted paper ballots this November will be only about half as many as in 2000.

Had vote counting been more accurate, perhaps Gore would have been elected president. Obviously, this has major implications. For example, if Gore had been president, would the United States have attacked Iraq? Would our troops still be in Iraq? The list goes on and on of presidential moves made by Bush that could have been decided differently by Gore.

So what is being done to ensure that this year's vote counting is more accurate and effective? A recent study by Election Data Services concludes that at least 69.5 million registered voters will cast optical scan ballots in elections this coming fall, while at least 66.6 million voters will use electronic equipment. Voting equipment procurements are under way in jurisdictions with about 22.5 million voters that are still reporting the use of punch cards and lever machines.

The study shows that more than a third of counties have changed voting equipment since the days of Bush vs. Gore in 2000. Indeed, at least 1,395 counties will have changed or are planning to change voting equipment by the time of the November 2006 general elections.

As a result, almost 82 million registered voters will have seen voting systems changes over the past six years. The number of counties using hand-counted paper ballots this November will be only about half as many as in 2000.

What the Election Data Services study tells us is that the methods for vote counting are changing significantly. Does this mean that problems with vote counting are solved? Of course not. As most of us know from daily experience, the various forms of electronic technology are reliable--or unreliable--to varying degrees.

Let's just hope that early problems that emerge with new voting technology are dealt with swiftly and uniformly to ensure that truly elected officials take public office.