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Introduction To The Concerns About Electronic Voting

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.

Unfortunately, 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.

What does this mean for our elections?

  • 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 tally.

HAVA isn't a solution

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.

Fixing software isn't a solution

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 complex.
  • 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.

 


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