by David Safier
As I write this, the Virginia race for Attorney General is too close to call, with the Democratic and Republican candidates separated by a few hundred ballots. Once a winner is determined, the loser will have the right to ask for a recount if the margin is less than one percent, which it probably will be. The problem is, a recount will mean little more than looking at the numbers spit out by the state's touchscreen computers.
Most Virginia voters use ATM-like computers to cast their ballots, with no paper trail. If a state uses paper ballots, then has them scanned by machines, the results can be checked by counting the paper votes one by one. But if it's all done by a touchscreen machine, all you have is the machine's word for it. If the computer overcounted or undercounted, if it switched some voters' choices from one candidate to another — either because of a computer glitch or purposeful tampering with the software — no one will ever know.
This is what can, and does, happen.
Yesterday, we highlighted some early scattered reports of votes flipping on those 100% unverifiable touch-screens. One voter — Col. Morris Davis, the former Chief Prosecutor at Gitmo, in fact — reported that he had to try over and over for the screen to record his vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, as the computer kept repeatedly marking the option for the Republican Ken Cuccinelli instead.
"Took 4 tries to vote for McCauliffe[sic]," Davis tweeted. "I'd touch his name but it would mark Cuccinelli."
McAuliffe won the governorship by a smaller margin than people expected. We'll never know if the race was really that close. Likewise the AG race. Without a paper trail, it's just someone's word against the computer, and the computer is the one keeping score.