Hand counting of votes

To The Economist

18 November 2000

Sir,

You twice accuse Governor George W Bush of hypocrisy in signing into law a preference for hand counted ballots in Texas while objecting to the same in Florida (The making of a President and Unleashing the dogs of law, November 18-24 2000). In so doing you are comparing quite different types of ballot and showing a greater willingness to accept Vice-President Gore's unsubstantiated slurs than are independent minded Democrats, including Senators Breaux and Torricelli and retiring Senator Moynihan.

Manual counts are to be preferred to electronic optical scanning of pencil marked ballots. They are not, and cannot, be more accurate than machine reading of punched cards, the type of ballot at issue in Florida. Repeated handling, bending, and flexing of perforated ballots inevitably detaches chads rendering legitimate votes invalid and converting unmarked ballots into countable votes. Each count will be less accurate than the last. It is easy to see why Senator Moynihan has said: "Hand counts of machine ballots? I don't like it one bit".

The result of these hand counts is to change, not to ascertain, the preferences of the voters. Cynics will always suspect that this was also the purpose.

Yours truly,

Quentin Langley

Copyright Quentin Langley 18 November 2000

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