Electronic Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy

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

Chapter 6

THE PERFORMANCE OF THE MACHINES

In 2004 there was one primary election where voting fraud was alleged to have altered the outcomes of an election. In Texas, Democrat representative Ciro Rodriguez alleged that fraud in a recount caused his 145-vote victory in a primary to turn into a 203-vote defeat (Mock 2004). The irregularities? First, the vote total in the challenger's hometown exceeded by 115 votes the total number of voters who were recorded as having cast ballots. Second, 304 uncounted ballots were “found” after the election and three-fourths were cast for the challenger. Were these lost and found ballots electronic? Actually, they were paper-based optical scan ballots. Given the intense media focus on electronic voting in 2004 and not on paper-based voting, this story slipped under the radar of most of the mainstream media.

As we have noted repeatedly, electronic voting was under an intense microscope in 2004 and again in 2006. Interest groups, the media, and other election watchers were carefully examining how this voting technology performed, especially in places where e-voting was being rolled out for the first time. The preelection rhetoric and media coverage before both of these elections suggested that the machines were going to be disastrous, with the machines vulnerable to malfunctions, problematic implementation by poll workers, and fraud. When the 2004 election was completed, however, there were only two locations where problems arose with electronic ballots, and both problems were on older electronic voting technologies; following the 2006 midterm election there was one location with a significant problem involving electronic voting technologies. There were also counties with significant problems with paper ballots, but such problems rarely were covered in major national media. The reality, that both paper and electronic voting systems generally performed reliably in most places, did not stop critics of electronic voting from attempting to discern fraud in the system, and the postelection rhetoric—much of which was distributed in a relatively unfiltered and unsubstantiated way on the Internet—was stoked with claims that electronic voting had led to President Bush receiving more votes than was “normal” in a presidential election. Instead, the real story of the 2004 election was that John Kerry could not muster the necessary votes to beat an incumbent president in wartime, in a context where fears of terrorism and moral decline may have lead many voters to feel the need

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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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