Electronic Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy

By R. Michael Alvarez; Thad E. Hall | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT

Before the 2004 election, there was a blizzard of media coverage about the potential problems associated with electronic voting. Claims were made that the machines would lose your votes or would be hacked. Democrats and Republicans alike used these potential problems as a mechanism for mobilizing voters. For example, the Florida Republican Party sent out fliers in 2004 that said: “The liberal Democrats have already begun their attacks and the new electronic voting machines do not have a paper ballot to verify your vote in case of a recount. Make sure your vote counts. Order your absentee ballot today.” Likewise, Democratic candidate Steve Henley was quoted on the campaign trail saying “By voting absentee, you make sure your vote gets counted. And in the event there is a close election, they have a physical copy of your vote.”1

In 2004 voters in Broward County, Florida, were similarly encouraged to vote using absentee ballots so that they would not have to vote using the county's direct recording equipment (DRE) voting machines. By voting absentee, the voters were told that a paper record would exist of their vote and that it would be counted. Unfortunately, in the month preceding the November 2004 general election, as many as 58,000 absentee ballots in Broward County were lost after leaving the county election office.2 Many voters there did not receive their ballot and could not easily vote any other way because their names were on the list of voters who had voted absentee. Moreover, it was expected that many of these voters would not receive the replacement absentee ballot in time for it to be returned and counted in the election. In an effort to use the debate over electronic voting to mobilize voters, thousands of voters may have been disenfranchised because the complexities of absentee voting had not been considered fully.

This story from the 2004 election illustrates a simple fact: life is full of risks, and all alternatives, including the choice not to act, carries with it inherent risks. This truism holds for elections as well, where all forms of voting carry inherent risks of problems, as a single procedural misstep can create an array of potential issues for voters. For example, the later the voters received the absentee ballots in Florida, the greater the likelihood that voters would return their ballot to the election office so late it would not be counted. Because these voters were now listed as absentee voters, they could not vote in a polling place or in early voting

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Electronic Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 - What This Book is About 1
  • Chapter 2 - Paper Problems, Electronic Promises 12
  • Chapter 3 - Criticisms of Electronic Voting 30
  • Chapter 4 - The Frame Game 50
  • Chapter 5 - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back 71
  • Chapter 6 - The Performance of the Machines 100
  • Chapter 7 - Public Acceptance of Electronic Voting 133
  • Chapter 8 - A New Paradigm for Assessing Voting Technologies 156
  • Chapter 9 - Conclusion 178
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 207
  • Index 217
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