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 9

CONCLUSION

In this book, we have identified the key issues associated with the use of electronic voting and voting technologies. In the United States, these issues will not disappear; the debates over electronic voting are likely to become more divisive over the next several years, not less. However, the nation has made tremendous progress over the past seven years in understanding many of the issues associated with election technology. Most beneficially, we are starting to understand that voting technology is not the beginning and ending of elections. Because the human factor is a critical part of the elections process, a focus on human-voting machine interactions specifically, and human-voting system interactions more generally, is needed to make elections work. Studies of poll workers and studies of voter satisfaction in the electoral process are being conducted that allow us, for the first time, to understand what makes a voter confident in the electoral process.

We view this book as a beginning, not an ending, in understanding the political, technological, and administrative aspects of electronic voting. Such technologies are only now being used broadly, and the debate over paper trails is changing the landscape in which voting machines are used. The international trials of electronic and Internet voting are expanding our understanding of the technological boundaries associated with democracy and elections. We are seeing changes among the vendors who are in the market, changes in the products they are offering, and even changes in how many of the vendors do business. Data are also only now becoming available on the costs associated with various voting technologies, and such information will help to improve the policy discussions associated with elections. In short, our understanding of electronic voting and voting generally is likely to be different in ten years because of the work of the scholarly community, following the lead of innovative election officials who work hard every day to improve the voting experience of their clients, the American voters.

Our argument regarding electronic voting is easily summarized. We are scientists, and as scientists our lives involve hypotheses and data. Hypotheses are tested, most rejected, and from the process of hypothesis testing we learn how the phenomenon under examination works. For too long, applications of the precautionary principle have held sway in debates about election reform; this has been true in historic debates

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