Electronic voting: A winner or a loser? Still too close to call

Electronic voting: A winner or a loser? Still too close to call

An industry group reports that early balloting on electronic-voting machines appears to be going smoothly despite widespread concerns about security and accountability.

But a recent report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science says there is too much we do not know about the technology and sociology of elections to tell whether e-voting really works.

Standards for measuring security and reliability of direct-recording electronic systems are lacking and money to develop and enforce standards has not been appropriated, AAAS found.

'Social and behavioral scientists must be joined by computer scientists and legal scholars in a program of research that enriches our understanding of the interplay of human and technological factors in the functioning of the U.S. voting system,' the report said.

E-voting machines have been in use for years, but the disputed 2000 presidential election and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which mandates electronic voting by 2006, have focused attention on the technology. This year an estimated 50 million voters are expected to use DRE systems to cast ballots.

Vendors of the systems and advocates for disabled voters defend the technology as safe and reliable. Computer scientists complain the software is insecure and that systems testing is inadequate.

The Information Technology Association of America, which includes the Election Technology Council, a group of DRE vendors, said today the machines have 'worked extremely well in supporting the early voting process.'

'Returns suggest nothing but the accurate and secure operation of electronic voting machines,' ITAA president Harris N. Miller said.

But critics contend problems are likely to surface during recounts because many electronic machines have no way to independently audit results.

The AAAS report cited problems that cropped up in the November 2000 election in New Mexico and in the July 2004 primary elections in Florida, when large numbers of votes were unaccounted for.

During a September workshop on cybersecurity and voting technology, AAAS identified a number of questions about elections for which there are no answers:

  • How many people do not vote or do not have their votes counted, and why?


  • How many of the problems experienced with voting systems are the result of technology and how many the result of poor voter education?


  • What factors affect voters' ability to adapt to new systems?


  • What parts of systems are most vulnerable to error or tampering?


AAAS recommended a research program to provide better understanding of the voting process, but on Election Day the systems in use will get a live test.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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