Will the Voting Machines Get It Right?

By Chris Gonsalves  |  Posted 2008-01-02 Print this article Print

Colorado is the latest state to pull the plug on electronic voting machines due to accuracy and security concerns. Who's next?

Electronic voting was supposed to solve the vexing balloting problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election. But as the 2008 primary season kicks off, many states are still wrestling with the accuracy and security of high-tech voting machines, and critics are calling for a return to paper ballots while the mess is sorted out.

Colorado this week became the latest state to pull the plug on electronic voting after election officials there deemed devices from several vendors unfit. Lack of password protection, programming errors and an error rate of better than 1 percent scuttled plans to use gear from Sequoia Voting Systems, Election Systems and Software, and Hart InterCivic, according to state officials.

"I was surprised," Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman told the Associated Press. "It's an awful position to be put in, but I feel strongly it's important that this equipment be secure and accurately count a vote."

Colorado isn't the only state caught throwing taxpayer money at election technology still in various stages of beta release. Shortly after the Florida election debacle of 2000 — the election that brought the expression "hanging chad" into the national vernacular— Congress passed the $3 billion "Help America Vote" initiative which requires all states to have electronic voting machines in place by 2010.

Computer technology has been employed for decades, largely to scan and compile votes made on manual punch cards. The electronic voting technology in question today however, obviates manual ballots in favor of touch-screens or employs optical scanners to tabulate votes. Almost since the current generation of voting gear arrived, critics have taken issue with systems that leave no permanent record of a vote and provide no way to audit an election if errors or fraud are suspected.

Matt Zimmerman, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation says many states rushed to comply with the federal mandates and are now forced to confront systems that may compromise the legitimacy of their elections.

"Nobody wanted to be the next Florida," Zimmerman says. "And that's what the vendors promised them."

What they got, however, was various collections of untested systems with problems that have become increasingly evident as the machines are used and tested, he says.

"It's pretty courageous that many states are taking the difficult step and getting rid of bad machines at this point," Zimmerman says.

Coffman said it's still unclear how Colorado which has spent some $41 million in federal grants to roll out new electronic voting gear for the state's 3 million registered voters, according to published reports —will count votes for its presidential caucuses, part of the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5. Coffman tells the AP that state and county officials are considering mail-in ballots or traditional paper ballots at polling places.

Page 2: Security Concerns


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