Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Machine Ate My Vote: E-Voting May Make Us Nostalgic for Hanging Chads

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

The Machine Ate My Vote: E-Voting May Make Us Nostalgic for Hanging Chads

Article excerpt

Florida, 2000 presidential election--the vote count long will be recalled as a low point in U.S. democratic politics.

The hue and cry of electoral corruption and a stolen election compelled the U.S. Congress to act. Boldly, it committed $3.9 billion in matching federal funds to assist states in the transition toward digital voting systems. Here, under the flag of the Help America Vote Act, was the answer for hanging chads.

Remarkably, about 30 percent of the electorate--50 million voters or so--will submit a ballot in the coming November elections using paperless machines. Be worried. The e-voting system in place is dangerously vulnerable to fraud.

It's not that electronic voting is a new innovation. A number of counties have utilized optical-scan and punch-key machines since the late 1960s. Then, nearly a decade ago, paperless touch-screen machines arrived, though at the time their high cost made their widespread use prohibitive for all but a few counties. The manufacturers of the new generation of machines promote their wares as affordable and easier to use.

Unfortunately, paperless touch-screen machines also are more susceptible to voter fraud. When optical-scan machines go haywire, poll officials have recourse to a back-up, printed document of how the original vote was cast. Touch-screen ballots, on the other hand, do not leave a paper trail, so officials cannot retrace voter intentions.

THE EARLY USE of touch-screens show that these red flags should be heeded. In North Carolina's 2002 general election, six touch-screen machines malfunctioned and deleted 436 electronic ballots. In a post-election investigation, the manufacturer determined that the machines erroneously had stopped counting votes even while the polls were still open.

In a January 2004 special election for a House seat in Florida, paperless voting terminals recorded 134 cast ballots as blank. The race ended up being decided by a margin of 12 votes. Left without a printed record, election officials could not recapture how voters intended to chose, and the results stood.

Beyond unresolved technical problems, the people behind the machines do not provide comfort. The two dominant makers of voting machines have tainted themselves with close ties to GOP candidates. …

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