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Electronic Votes: Better or Worse Than Paper?

By Danny Davids(13,494) Danny Davids

Posted Friday, January 04, 2008
View All Blog Posts submitted by Danny Davids

This year we in the United States will (hopefully) be going to the polls and casting our votes for a new President.  Thanks in part to the fiasco our national election generated in 2004, the issue of how to properly and safely cast a vote that cannot be tampered with or altered is paramount.  Technology has tried to come to the rescue by offering an alternative to a paper ballot that can be lost, defaced, or improperly interpreted (remember the hanging chad?).  Hence the voting machine, which is touted as eliminating these problems.  But it doesn't mean they're completely reliable.

Electronic voting machines have been in use in a number of states for several years now.  The premise is simple.  Instead of pullling toggle switches or punching out holes in a paper card, voters use a touch-screen display to choose their candidates.  Data is stored either on a hard drive connected to the voting machine directly or through a network connection, or is transmitted via a secure Internet connection to a central location.  Votes do not need to be counted manually as tallies are updated with every vote cast.

Concerns have arisen, however, about the accuracy of electronic voting machines.  Some systems have been tested that produce as much as a one percent error rate when tabulating votes.  That would mean that out of one million votes, 10,000 would be wrong (recording the vote incorrectly, or failing to tally the vote after it has been cast).  Because vote tallying is done automatically, recounts are impossible unless a paper receipt is generated for each voter showing the voter's choices as well as a flag that the votes had been added to the appropriate tallies.

Security is also a concern.  Opponents of electronic voting insist that even with the best security measures, hackers could potentially break into the voting network, accessing the hard drive of the voting machine directly or the central location where all votes are tallied.  Or a disgruntled volunteer with some computing experience could load a virus onto the hard drives of the voting machines, making digital hash of all that data.  And of course there are the traditional methods for misplacing votes--the hard drive on the machine crashed without a backup: somebody carried the machine and dropped it, damaging the electronics and making the data on the drive unreadable; the voting machine never sent the data to the central location because the transmission line was down or unavailable.

Colorado is the latest state to express concerns about the validity of electronic voting.  The four major vendors of voting machines have had their systems decertified by the state.  With primaries coming up in just a few months, vendors are scrambling to either fix the problems with existing machines or come up with new ones to replace them.  It's entirely likely that many Coloradans this year will be casting their ballots on paper.

No matter what method people use to vote, there will always be concerns about the accuracy and security of the ballots.  Technology can always be used to improve a given process, but if the technology makes things worse, it may be necessary to step back and continue using the old, proven ways until advances in hardware and software correct the problems.  I don't care if my ballot is on paper or on digital media, as long as it counts!

This Blog Post has been read 273 times.
Posted to ProBlogs.com on Friday, January 04, 2008
View other posts by Danny Davids

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