Bizarre election results in California have been traced to an electronic touch-screen ballot system. But no one is quite sure what went wrong, and because there is no paper trail, no one is ever likely to get to the bottom of it.
In several Orange County precincts last week, more ballots were cast than the number of registered voters can account for, the LA Times reports.
Around 5,500 citizens appear to have unwittingly cast votes in the wrong districts, out of a total of 7,000 who experienced some manner of snafu, the newspaper reckons.
The unlikely number of ballots cast in certain precincts alerted officials to the difficulties. This does not mean that less obvious errors did not occur at the same time. But at least, in those areas where the ballots cast exceeded voter turnout, it is known that some manner of snafu occurred.
A spokesman for the voting system manufacturer hastened to make a virtue of the bungling: "David Hart, chairman of Texas-based Hart InterCivic, which manufactured Orange County's voting system, said it would be impossible to identify which voters cast ballots in the wrong precincts because of steps the company had taken to ensure voter secrecy. For this reason, an exact account of miscast ballots is impossible," the LA Times says.
Fortunately, the discrepancies - at least those that have been detected - are too slight to have influenced the outcomes of any elections. However, had any of the races been close, Orange County would have found itself in the awkward position of knowing that an election is doubtful, and having no hope of sorting it out.
Since a paper recount is impossible with the majority of these machines, one has to wonder if touch-screen voting might eventually inspire nostalgia for the hanging chads, political wrangling and mass confusion that propelled George W Bush into the Oval Office. The old system may have been a nasty business, but at least we know what went wrong with it. ®