Electronic Voting: Can You Trust the Results?
Espiner, Mark, New Statesman (1996)
More than 80 per cent of Americans voting in these midterm elections will have used electronic voting systems. But, just as the UK is beginning to think that modernisation of our own voting systems is long overdue, discontent with new technologies in the United States is growing.
Stories abound. Famously, in the 2000 US presidential election, the returns for Al Gore in Volusia County, Florida, recorded minus 16,022 votes. Whether it was caused by fraud or a ghost in the machine, the result raised serious doubts over whether it was right to place the security of democracy in the hands of computer engineers who, at best, are prone to human error and, at worst, are capable of manipulating the system to political advantage.
Even aside from the problem of system designers, concern has been growing more recently that an outside hacker or a virus could get into the works.
A timely documentary, Hacking Democracy, screened in the run-up to the election in the US, decided to take an in-depth look at the vulnerabilities and blind spots in the world of e-voting. Three years in the making, it offers some startling revelations.
Investigating the votes for Al Gore, the documentary demonstrates that his (impossible) negative rating in one county might have been caused by an attempt to tamper with the election. In fact, the film does not establish the origin of the votes. More importantly, it never can be established. The software that counts votes cast is a trade secret owned by the Diebold Corporation, which supplies the voting equipment. It is against federal law to examine the voting machines. On the face of it, this does not seem to be a transparent system, and not one against which a complainant could ever appeal.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect is the inability to tally, on paper, votes cast with the poll result. …