Roswell: Close vote shows need for a ballot paper trail

“Roswell loser doubts recount would change results” ran an AJC headline, while days later another read, “Atlanta, Roswell set for mayoral recounts today.”

Incumbent Mayor Jere Wood’s challenger, David Tolleson, exercised his right and requested a recount as he lost by a difference of less than 1 percent of the total votes cast, a mere 77 votes.

Tolleson’s initial inclination was spot on, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. There is a major flaw inherent to the electronic voting machines that we use throughout Georgia in that we do not have a verifiable paper receipt trail to confirm that the votes we cast are being properly recorded, counted and then recounted.

The machines we use, without the paper receipts, will always give, in a recount, the same totals as the original count. This is because they rely on PCMCIA memory cards, the plastic cards that we return to the poll workers after we’ve cast our votes, prior to departing our polling precinct. There is nothing on these cards that we, or anyone else for that matter, can actually read that confirms that the votes we cast are indeed the ones we’d intended.

If I were to receive a receipt from my bank that was a piece of plastic that I couldn’t read, and that I’d have to give back before leaving, I’d be unhappy and unable to prove I’d ever made a deposit or paid a bill with cash. Yet that is precisely what happens every time we vote in Georgia and choose not to utilize an absentee ballot, as the only ballots currently cast in Georgia that are verifiable for recount are the provisional, absentee ballots because they are made of paper and we fill them out by writing on them.

The problem is that whatever is contained on those plastic cards is what is recounted, whether it is accurate information reflecting the voter’s choices — or not. But apparently recount is the wrong term to use with respect to these cards, as they can only be “recanvassed,” which means that the totals will be exactly the same as the previously unverifiable results.

Ironically, the same day that the “recount/recanvass” was announced, Roswell was recognized by the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Green Communities Program that encourages prudent use of our natural resources. This is certainly an achievement to be proud of, and simple changes such as replacing traffic and school zone flashers with LED bulbs and planting trees are responsible efforts to ensure our long-term environmental health.

But the long-term health of our democracy is in significant danger if we can’t rely on the votes we cast being recorded, counted and recounted, as we’d intended. In light of the recent paper thin victories, it is clear that no vote is expendable and the potential for questionable and inaccurate voting results is too great for us not to make the simple change to include voter verified paper ballot audit trails. The technology has been available since 2002, and every election we can plant trees to replace the ones helping us maintain our republic by producing paper for receipts.

Vicki Griffin works in education and communication and has lived in Roswell for 17 years.