"Voting Technologies in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress"

Article excerpt

Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C. 24 pp. Available to the public only at www.house.gov/markgreen/crs.htm. Author: Eric A. Fischer

After the disputed vote count in Florida turned last fall's presidential election into a hanging chad, there was much talk of election reform to ensure that America would never again be so bedeviled by undervotes, overvotes, and unintended votes. In an analysis of voting technologies now used in the United States, Fischer, a senior specialist in science and technology resources at the Congressional Research Service, makes it apparent that while improvement is possible, perfection is bound to remain elusive.

Five types of voting technology are now in use: punch cards (used in 37.4 percent of precincts); marksense, or optical scan, the same technology used in standardized tests (24.7 percent); lever machines (21.8 percent); electronic voting (7.3 percent); and paper ballots (2.9 percent). Mixed systems account for the balance. Lever machines (which are no longer made, though replacement parts remain available) and electronic systems can reduce the incidence of overvoting (i.e., voting for more candidates than permitted). But no system can prevent erroneous undervotes or unintended votes, Fischer says. Electronic systems, however, potentially can reduce undervotes by, for example, "indicating via a light or other mechanism the offices for which a voter has not yet cast a vote." Some touchscreen electronic systems also can discourage unintended votes by letting the voter review a summary of the choices made before the ballot is cast. Internet voting, currently limited to demonstration projects, presents "special ch allenges for ensuring authentication, secrecy, and security in the voting process," Fischer notes. …

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