E-voting passes Election Day test

'The talk is not about miscounting related to e-voting but about how to count paper ballots accurately, which is a great success story for e-voting.'

Dan Gross

Nearly a third of the people who voted in the presidential election cast their votes electronically, and it turns out that the systems performed better than expected.

Although some areas reported minor problems associated with activating new e-voting equipment when the polls opened on Election Day, there seem to have been no widespread problems. Voters cast roughly 35 million of the 120 million total ballots electronically.

But experts agreed that significant challenges remain. To retain public confidence in e-voting, government must address concerns about security and establish uniform policies and procedures for running the equipment.

Christopher Baum, vice president for public-sector research at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., said states that made big investments in new e-voting and other election support systems before the presidential election seemed to have done well, while states such as Ohio that put off their investments had problems.

'The processes that they used in Ohio for voter registration and vote tallying were not up to the task,' he said.

Delaware, Georgia, Maryland and Nevada used direct-recording systems in every county for the first time in a major election.

Of the four states, only Nevada also kept a paper audit trail to provide a backup if a recount were to become necessary.

TrueVoteMD, a nonpartisan citizens' group focused on protecting voting integrity, tried unsuccessfully to get a paper audit trail implemented for Maryland's touch-screen machines.

The Maryland State Board of Elections said they had received no reports of any major problems. The only problem the board reported last week was a failure to have a piece of equipment capable of encoding voter access cards available at one precinct, said Pamela Woodside, the election board's CIO. That was attributed to human error, not equipment failure, she said.

The success of new e-voting systems in the presidential election can be attributed partly to the fact that states worked out many of the kinks earlier this year during the primaries, said Amy Santenello, a senior research analyst for government studies with market research and consulting firm Meta Group Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

'In the primaries, there were a lot of training and change management issues,' she said, but election officials 'learned from them and applied those in the presidential election.'

One of the biggest e-voting success stories in the presidential race was Nevada, Santenello said. The state mandated that each poll worker undergo three days of training before the election.

Significantly, problems reported with vote counting were associated almost entirely with paper ballots and not with their electronic counterparts.

'The talk is not about miscounting related to e-voting but about how to count paper ballots accurately, which is a great success story for e-voting,' Santenello said. 'This election will go a long way toward boosting public confidence in the e-voting process.'

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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