As we approach November and the prospects of another very tight election, the balloting process is once again going to take center stage. In particular, electronic or computer voting will be called into question.
We as a society have a long history of not trusting new technology for a long time. People didn't trust ATM's to either withdraw, or in particular deposit, money for years. Now, they're part of the fabric of life. Same thing with buying things online - people didn't trust punching their credit card into a computer and sending it to some mythical company on the other end. Now many (most?) can't survive without Amazon.com, eBay or others.
Computer balloting is now going through the exact same cycle. We simply don't trust it. We want a "paper trail" in case we need to do a recount (read: in case we don't trust what the computer says). Certain systems do offer a paper trail, but there are some who don't trust those either. From personal experience, the one time we were able to use a computer to vote in California (before people went off the deep-end, suing to prevent computers from being used), the paper trail was a receipt-style tape in the machine that was near impossible to read. (Not exactly sure how useful that paper trail actually was.)
I have a solution that solves all of these problems: Let the computer fill out the paper ballot.
Here's the very simple plan:
Step 1 - Voter shows up at polling place. Validates they are a legal voter and they are handed a smart card (which is normal for computer voting).
Step 2 - They walk over to the machine, insert the smart card, and follow the prompts to vote.
Step 3 - Upon completion, the computer prints out a normal paper ballot that is filled out. The voter is then able to inspect this ballot and ensure that everything is good.
Step 4 - Voter takes the ballot and slides it into a collecting machine (standard practice for paper balloting.) The ballot has a barcode which the computer also has read. The vote doesn't count unless it's been inserted into the collecting machine.
Problem solved by using the best of both worlds. What's also nice is the ballots that are used are normal paper ballots. Should the machines fail (or a xenophobe shows up and doesn't want to use the computer), you simply hand out the paper ballots the machine would have used.
Counting becomes simpler, and we get away from trying to determine "the intent of the voter" (a phrase which scares me - I don't want anyone projecting their thoughts onto my ballot. If I didn't follow the directions, disqualify my ballot).
Give the computer the paper ballot and let the computer fill it out.