It certainly isn't too soon to be talking about what kind of electronic voting machines will be put into service in Douglas County for the August 2006 primary election.
It's good that County Clerk Jamie Shew is starting the discussion and getting feedback on various voting options, but many people would say the county already is late in considering this important decision. Given the problems that have arisen here in recent years with electronic vote-counting machines, 10 months doesn't seem like very long to choose equipment, order and receive delivery of it, train county employees and poll volunteers in its operation and make sure it is working properly before people head to the polls next August. Rushing any step of that process could set the stage for a voting disaster.
Two electronic voting options are being considered, according to Shew, both of which offer touch-screen balloting. The main difference between the two is that one also marks a paper ballot while the other is a paperless ballot with only an optional paper audit trail.
At a meeting earlier this week, poll workers noted that younger voters probably will adapt well to the new technology but that older voters might be intimidated by the new machinery. Shew allayed those fears somewhat by noting that paper ballots would be available for those who requested them.
The bigger concern for many voters, however, is not how difficult it is to vote but how those votes will be handled and counted after they are cast. You have to have a lot of faith in computer technology to be willing to turn an election over to an electronic counting system that has no paper backup.
More than once in recent years - including one election in which a recount produced a different winner - Douglas County election officials have had to resort to recounting paper ballots to confirm election results. They wouldn't have that option with voting machines that have no paper backup.
Voting machines may not increase the possibility of errors, but it seems they could have a significant impact on the ability to correct errors that do occur. A system without a paper backup also would seem far more susceptible to voter fraud and other unscrupulous attempts to sway an election.
Maybe uneasiness with electronic, paperless voting is an age thing, but if so, perhaps the older but wiser view should prevail. At least until voters get more confident in computer counting methods, let's keep the paper ballots - just in case.