Votomatic Voting System: A Better Ballot

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Almost 30 years ago, Berkeley resident William Rouverol helped design the voting system at the root of the current voting fiasco in Florida and the unprecedented problems of the 2000 national election.

Rouverol, a former UC Berkeley mechanical engineering professor, wrote the patent and designed the first prototype for former colleague Joseph Harris' Votomatic Voting System. Harris, also a former UC Berkeley professor of political science, invented the system in the early 1960's, seeking help from Rouverol because of his expertise in patents and inventions.

The Votomatic system, currently used by about 37 percent of the nation's counties, is one element of system that is presently under speculation because of the ballot mess in Florida, Rouverol said.

Rouverol and Harris said they anticipated long ago the difficulties that would come with using the "butterfly ballot" that voters used in Palm Beach County.

"The butterfly ballot is an inferior kind of ballot on several counts and that's why Joe and I rejected it," Rouverol said.

This particular kind of ballot, which lists candidates on both sides and has punch holes in the center, was the source of vast confusion among Palm Beach County voters who either double voted or say they voted for the wrong candidate. The butterfly ballot disenfranchised over 19,000 voters - nearly four percent of the voting population in Palm Beach - who double voted and whose votes were consequently not counted, Rouverol said.

Henry Brady, a UC Berkeley professor of political science and public policy, was in Palm Beach last week working with attorneys in a suit representing Palm Beach voters who believe the butterfly ballot "misrecorded and nullified their votes." According to Brady, it was not clear what order the candidates were in and the ballots were "almost impossible to understand."

Brady, however, not only objects to the butterfly ballot, but also to the punch card voting system in general. With the Votomatic system there is no way to know if one has double-voted, and many people in Palm Beach may have voted twice without knowing it, Brady said.

Many cite the chad, which is the pre-perforated punch square, as one source of the voting confusion. The chads can be easily loosened or not punched through at all - disqualifying those votes.

Many would like to see the invention of a new voting system. Parke Skalton, a campaign consultant at S G & A in Los Angeles, favors the implementation of an optical scanner, which he said tends to be a lot more accurate than the Votomatic system.

Brady said he would like to see something different altogether. He suggested something similar to the computerized automated teller machine.

"The system is very poor and we have the technology to do much much better," he said.

Skalton agrees that the current system is obsolete and cites a 1988 study by the National Bureau of Standards that contended that the system is inherently flawed and should be replaced.

"The machine depends upon the voter being able to cleanly press a chad," he said. "It's notoriously inaccurate and should be replaced as soon as possible. It's 50-year-old technology that should have been replaced a decade ago."

Skalton added that the voting mechanisms should not change from county to county.

"I think that if we had a national standard for election machines then the flaws in the process would tend to even out more," he said. "The fact that the mechanisms are left up to counties is absurd in a national election."

Rouverol, however, said that the Votomatic machine is mostly accurate and has many other advantages, such as being very fast and inexpensive.


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