Magazine article Newsweek

Four More Years to Finally Get It Right; in the New Devices, a Voter Has No Way of Proving That His or Her Choice Is Reported in the Final Tally

Magazine article Newsweek

Four More Years to Finally Get It Right; in the New Devices, a Voter Has No Way of Proving That His or Her Choice Is Reported in the Final Tally

Article excerpt

Byline: Steven Levy

Almost a month after the presidential election, I'm still getting missives from people who insist that things don't smell right. They draw on a litany of irregularities that are well-circulated in the blogosphere, the Blue States and maybe even subterranean corners of the Red nation. Some are of the dead-canary-in-the-coal-mine variety, like the computer in Ohio that delivered Bush 4, 258 votes when only 638 humans actually cast ballots. Others are more sweeping, like the charges that e-voting peculiarities could have somehow lost Kerry 260,000 votes in Florida. Not all of these people charge fraud, but clearly many believe the worst. And if they go to the popular blackboxvoting.org site, a headline assures them it's ok to say the f-word.

It would be easy to dismiss this bunch as a society of paranoids. Indeed, their complaints seem beyond the pale when key e-voting critics claim that despite some problems, there's no evidence that the outcome was affected. Anyway, at this point, even pictures of Karl Rove personally hacking Diebold machines wouldn't budge the incumbent from the White House. Is it time for these folks to shut up already?

To the contrary, their curmudgeonry serves an important purpose. The nature of the ATM-style voting terminals used by a third of the country in 2004--and set to increase over the next few cycles--doesn't merely invite controversy. It makes doubt a permanent part of the process. The problem is that the new devices have no way of proving to the voter that his or her choice is reported in the final tally. Researchers have demonstrated that the machines themselves are not foolproof--and, worse, are potentially susceptible to vote-stealing schemes.

You would think that some means of verifiability (like a paper printout that can be saved and used in a recount) would be a minimal requirement. …

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