Friday, November 2, 2007

What hath Leo Rosenberg wrought?

The 2008 presidential election is one year away and already we've been subjected to 24/7 campaign coverage since this time a year ago.

It began innocently enough on November 2, 1920 on the roof of a Westinghouse Electric Company building in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when Leo Rosenburg began coverage of the 1920 presidential election returns on the world's first commercial radio station, KDKA. That first night of election coverage relied on information being relayed by telephone from a local newspaper, allowing about one thousand listeners to learn James Cox had lost to Warren Harding.

Since then radio (and later television) news organizations continued efforts to reduce the time between voters marking their ballots and learning the results; giving Election Day the appearance of a sporting event rather than something more substantive.

More importantly, and I fear to our detriment, this need for speed has ushered in the age of electronic voting. The aim is to make results known more quickly. The price is less accountability since the manufacturers have convinced our political leaders that a paper trail is not necessary. It really does not matter whether we learn the results of the election at 8:01 PM on election night, or a week later. What is important is that the votes are recorded and counted accurately. We need not return to pencil and paper for this; simply require that each electronic voting machine print an itemized receipt for the voter to review and then place into the ballot box. Ed Mierzwinski of the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups offers additional insight on the issue of receipts. Kim Zetter's blog at Wired has an article on the Federal Election Assistance Commission's effort to collect public input on e-voting security. And, an article in the Illinois Business Law Journal suggests e-voting machines be based on open source software as one way to mitigate the potential for fraud.

We cannot turn back time, but we can decide that getting it right is more important than getting it fast.