Electronic Elections: The Perils and Promises of Digital Democracy

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

Chapter 2

PAPER PROBLEMS, ELECTRONIC
PROMISES

We commonly have people ask us, What is so difficult about running an election? Having heard this question so many times, we have a good guess that the next question is: Why can't we just vote on paper ballots? Sometimes, people do surprise us, like twenty-seven-year-old Catherine Getches from Santa Rosa, California, who wrote the Los Angeles Times to ask why we vote in such an antiquated way. Like many others, she expresses frustration with the way we are forced to vote:

It was Super Tuesday when I realized that the Urban Outfitters' tee that had at
first annoyed me was actually true. “Only Old People Vote,” the shirt declared
in my generation's ironically detached way. It was true—voting made me feel
more of a nonmember than a participant in the political process. I cast my
ballot in one of the area's oldest elementary schools, where I signed in with an
election volunteer wielding a magnifying glass. And when she had trouble
finding my name she joked about alphabet amnesia, having “learned the
ABCs so darn long ago.” I took a ballot from a man sipping from a can of
Ensure, and I was handed a dried-up Sharpie by a silver-haired woman who
kept the cap as insurance on its return.

I wondered if the word “primary” was a nod to the primitive voting sys-
tem and if these three attendants were at this pioneering polling place when
it all began. I pictured my paper ballot racing to the counting location via
Pony Express in time for that night's results. And for the first time, I wished
life was more as it was on “American Idol.” If vast numbers of people can
be motivated to vote for contestants who are simply interested in being
heard, why is it so hard to get people to act in behalf of candidates who
have a message?

If I can transfer money via phone, publish photos straight from my cell
phone to the Web and instant-message a vote along with millions of others
to elect an Idol, why can't there be a safe and modern system in place for se-
lecting the country's leaders? And why do we think the current system is so
safe? At my polling place, no ID was required, just knowledge of my name.
My privacy was subject to the voice level of the attendants, and the cereal
box-like contraption that was to conceal votes from wandering eyes was
hardly fool- or snoop-proof.1

-12-

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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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