About a year ago, federal officials started talking about requiring a "paper trail" for new electronic voting machines.
Before then, Georgia had been way ahead of the post-2000 election curve when everyone was expressing distrust at the voting system and its paper ballots. The state spent bucketloads of money replacing all of the punch-card voting machines with electronic touch-screen systems.
The machines are easier to use and far more reliable than the often-inexact punch cards (remember the "hanging chads"?), but some Luddites and election losers claimed that without a paper backup, the computerized system could be rigged. So they wanted to add printers to all of them.
From the beginning, the biggest cheerleader for the electronic voting machines was Secretary of State Cathy Cox. So when I asked her office last year for their viewpoint on the congressional push for a paper trail, she supplied me with a stack of electronic files attacking the idea.
It was a pretty big surprise this past week, then, when Cox suddenly announced that she's now in favor of adding printers to the current systems.
Must have something to do with her running for governor.
The Atlanta Constitution, which I bet will endorse Cox for the Democratic nomination over Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, and then back her vs. Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, anticipated the response to Cox's switch. The paper said politicians who alter their positions are sometimes accused of being "flip floppers" - duh - which it rejected as "a sophomoric label."
Guess they're still sore about flip-flopper John Kerry losing Georgia in the state's first presidential election with electronic machines.
I could take the paper trail or leave it; makes no difference to me. But there's something more going on here.
This isn't about having a paper record to prove votes are accurately recorded, any more than Democrats' demands for documents from John Roberts' legal work in the Reagan administration were only in the interest of full disclosure.
What this is all about is creating deep piles of data that can be sifted endlessly. It's not about settling the question with hard facts, but about stirring an endless pot of details to keep doubt cooking.
The answers contained in those paper-trail ballots aren't important as long as they can be used to keep questions alive. Just look at how long it took to settle the 2000 election, which had a paper trail.
For Cox, it's about the campaign trail, not the paper trail. The other two candidates in the race are already in favor of adding the printouts, and she didn't want to be the odd, ah, woman out.
On the bandwagon
Meanwhile, how's this for deep-end me-tooism? Shyam Reddy, running as a Democrat to succeed Cox, couldn't trump Republican opponent Bill Stephens by jumping on Cox's paper-trail bandwagon, because Stephens already was on it. He supported the paper-trail idea before Cox got on board.
So instead Reddy announced that he's not only in favor of paper ballots, but also for setting up a collection and counting system with all sorts of redundancies and auditing requirements.
Of course, Reddy's press-release attack on Stephens also makes it clear that he opposes the state's new identification requirement for voters. So apparently he wants all votes counted, as long as we can't verify who casts them.
It was sad to see a Columbia County institution pass away this past week.
Nelson Cash was one of the county's original visionaries. How many of us who have been here a while have looked around and said, "Man, I wish I'd bought some of this land before it became so valuable"? Mr. Cash did just that, buying 330 acres of farmland between a couple of dirt roads back in 1937.
Those roads were Washington Road and Columbia Road. And Mr. Cash made a lot of money selling his land years later in valuable chunks.
But he didn't just make money and sit on it. Mr. Cash helped start the county's first Boy Scout troop; he served as a school trustee for Evans, and built the school's first lunchroom out of his own pocket; and he helped raise the money to build the football field on which Evans Middle School now plays.
Evans Middle's campus is being sold for commercial development, something Mr. Cash would understand better than anyone. When Evans plays the final game on that field Oct. 11, they'd do well to say a few words in Mr. Cash's memory.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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