Lafayette keeps voting machine printers after outcry

BY ERROL CASTENS
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – After nearly two hours of impassioned testimony, Lafayette County supervisors voted Thursday to leave printers on the county's voting machines.

The Diebold touch-screen voting machines originally were bought with the printers, said District 4 Election Commissioner Cecil Locke, “to have a paper trail (and) to give the voter a sense of satisfaction – a false sense, as it turns out – that their vote has been counted.”

The printers allow each voter to see a paper-and-ink recap of his choices but provide no additional security over the voting machines' three forms of electronic recording, election officials contended.

“The paper trail' is going to be exactly what you have on the screen,” said Circuit Clerk Mary Alice Busby. “If (the printer) jams, you don't have a paper trail anyway.”

District 1 Supervisor Mike Pickens argued that the troublesome devices are an unnecessary redundancy.

“What's going on the screen is what's going on the printer,” he said.

Many of the dozens attending the meeting were not convinced.

“I found more articles than I can count about why it's a bad idea to remove the verifiable printer off these machines,” said Max Hill, who heads Lafayette County's Democratic Executive Committee. “We're stuck with these machines, and they have been known to … have glitches, flipped votes.”

Another man suggested the printers should be kept in case the federal government someday requires them.

“We should stick with the investment we've already made,” he said.

Oxford Alderman Jon Fisher, who works for a software firm, warned that providing a paper trail for elections is crucial.

“If we can't do this, let's go back to a paper ballot and an OCR scanner,” he said, referring to the optical character readers that tally paper ballots. “One line of code stuck into a computer can change an election; it can change your bank account.”

Ultimately, supervisors went with the preponderance of pleas from voters.

“I understand the importance of verification when I vote, and I also understand the importance of manpower utilization,” Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant said. On his motion, board members voted 5-0 to keep the printers.

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.