Electronic Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy

By R. Michael Alvarez; Thad E. Hall | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3


In this chapter, we discuss the recent criticisms of electronic voting. To highlight the fears of electronic voting, we begin with a fictionalized story that illustrates the concerns of some critics.

It is early in the morning on November 5, 2008. With no incumbent in the race, both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have been running neck and neck in the polls all year. As the early election results start rolling in, the election is again extremely close and the pundits start to rave about how close the Electoral College vote will be. By two thirty on the East Coast, we are down to the votes in one state, and the Electoral College votes of this state hang on the difference of only a few hundred ballots. Whoever wins this state will win the presidency. All throughout election day, there were reports of widespread election anomalies across the country—but there were many reports of problems coming from this single pivotal state. It is clear something is wrong because this state uses electronic voting equipment in the entire state without paper audit trails—although different counties use equipment from different vendors—and e-voting should be producing vote totals much quicker. In fact, Georgia, which also uses electronic voting equipment, reported complete totals for the entire state in less than two hours after the polls closed.

The state's secretary of state comes onto the television at three o' clock in the morning and reads an incredible statement:

Ladies and Gentlemen: For the last five hours, we have been attempting to
collect vote totals from all of our counties. In our ten smallest counties, we
were able to collect vote totals quickly, without problem. However, I am here
to report that every voting machine in our largest county—which has
500,000 registered voters and approximately 400,000 cast votes in this elec-
tion—is blank. The machines did not register a single vote for any race.
County election officials and the voting machine vendor are currently
attempting to determine if the ballots are in either of the two redundant data
storage devices within the voting machines. We have examined fifty machines
from across the county, and none of the machines show a single ballot in any
memory registry.

This problem is obviously disastrous. Unfortunately, it is not the only prob-
lem we have. In our two medium-sized counties we have complete election
results for all races. However, the results for the presidential race are highly


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