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Punch cards get a vote of confidence

A federal voting commission is told that increasing concern about the security of electronic voting has made  punch-card ballots look pretty good to some election officials.
A voter submits his ballot to a punch-card reader in Chicago during a primary election in March.
A voter submits his ballot to a punch-card reader in Chicago during a primary election in March.Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The much-maligned punch-card ballot got something on Thursday that many election officials were loath to give it in 2000 — respect.

Chad or no chad, increasing concern about the security of electronic voting has made the punch cards look pretty good to some — although most of the machines are expected to be retired by 2006.

“Obviously punch-card voting is not the wave of the future ... but perhaps it is not the devil it has been portrayed,” Lance Gough, executive director of Chicago’s Board of Election Commissioners, told a hearing of a new federal voting commission.

Infamous for the hanging and dimpled chads that bedeviled election officials in Florida in 2000, punch cards are still expected to be used by nearly 19 percent of voters nationwide in November, compared with about 30 percent in 2000, according to Election Data Services Inc.

About 32 percent of voters will use optical scan machines in November, 29 percent will vote electronically, 13 percent will use lever machines and the remainder will use a mix of options.

“It was anticipated early on that we would transition to an electronic voting system to replace the punch card, and since the controversy that’s been going on around the nation we’ve had some officials second-guess that,” said Amy Naccarato, state election director for Utah.

“Now we’re finding people saying, ’What’s so bad about the punch card? It’s served us well for so long.”’

Nearly $3 billion was appropriated under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 for states to upgrade voting machines. But while the act envisioned replacing lever and punch-card machines by 2006, it didn’t specify what should replace them — only new requirements polling places must meet.

Among the requirements are voters must be able to correct their ballot and be notified if they pick more than one candidate for office, and polling places must have at least one voting machine disabled voters can use. Since electronic voting machines appear to meet many of the new requirements, many jurisdictions plan to install them by 2006.

Others are keeping their options open. Naccarato said one option for Utah was to retain punch-card voting, perhaps with modifications, while also adding electronic machines for the disabled.

The new federal Election Assistance Commission is charged with distributing funds to states and acting as a clearinghouse for election administration. The bipartisan, four-member commission has no regulatory authority but is compiling “best practices” on voting administration and machines.