A growing concern over the inadequacies of election
equipment in the United States has recently been heightened
by the problems of the 2000 Presidential election.
Added to the mix is the election reform mandated
by recent federal legislation attempting
to address the concerns. The result is that many states
are scurrying to replace their older equipment with
new electronic voting computers.
election technology has not advanced to the point where
it can provide us with electronic systems that are
reliable enough to trust with our democracy. In other
words, we just aren't there yet.
Here are the facts:
- Computer experts say today's voting machines are
prone to errors and vulnerable to fraud.
- Even thorough testing can't reveal malicious programs
that could subvert an election.
- Courts have ruled that secret software can be used
to record and count our votes
- Defective hardware and bugs in software could decide
who wins an election.
- Many election officials don't realize the risks
inherent in using electronic voting machines.
- Manual recounts will be impossible in districts
that don't allow voters to inspect a paper record
of their votes.
- Americans will use voting computers with secret
software that has not been sufficiently
scrutinized, just as they have in past elections.
- They will have to trust computers to record and
count their votes correctly – computers that are
not advanced enough to ensure the security and accuracy
that could justify their trust.
- If something odd occurs, manual recounts of the
original ballots will be impossible ,
because the only record of the votes will be in electronic
form, which will, of course, match the questionable
In response to the 2000 Florida debacle, Congress
passed a law, the Help
America Vote Act (HAVA), which mandates voting
process reform in all the states. Unfortunately, many
are interpreting the requirements in a way that does
not provide the safeguards necessary to ensure integrity
in our elections.
- HAVA requires that voters be able to verify their
ballots before they are cast and counted.
- HAVA requires that all voting machines provide
a “permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity” and
that the voter must be given the “opportunity to
change the ballot or correct any error before the
permanent paper is produced.“
Mr. Darryl R. Wold, former chairman of the Federal
Election Commission (FEC) believes that HAVA requires
a voter-verifiable paper trail . Senator John Ensign
(R-NV), who contributed the audit requirements now
incorporated into HAVA, explains
that the intent of the provision was to provide
a voter-verifiable paper trail. However, many proponents
of touch screen voting systems are claiming that the
HAVA requirement does not mean the
system must allow the voter to verify the paper record.
They claim the HAVA requirements are met if the voter
verifies a screen version of the ballot, and if a paper
report can be printed later for audit purposes. However,
if the voters cannot verify the actual audit record
in the voting booth, meaningful recounts are impossible since
the recount would simply be an identical re-tabulation
of the original count that was in question. Since HAVA
remains open to this kind of interpretation, it does
not provide a solution.
More information can be found here at HAVA Information Central.
In July 2003, computer researchers from Johns Hopkins
and Rice Universities published a scathing
review of one of the most widely used electronic
voting computers, the Diebold touch screen. Their analysis showed
that the software was badly designed, full of errors,
and open to fraud.
Some people say that the manufacturers could simply
fix the software, and the problem will be solved. However,
they fail to see that the solution is not that simple.
There are two unfixable problems
with electronic voting machines:
- No one knows how to write bug-free software. The
more complex the software, the more difficult it
is to find the bugs, and election software is very
- Malicious code embedded into the software
could go undetected. Neither close inspection
of the code nor thorough testing of the computer
could ensure that malicious software has not slipped
through the cracks.