Voting Equipment

Date: 1 Dec 2008 | posted in: governance | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

After the controversial Presidential election of 2000, many communities were compelled to re-examine their voting equipment and consider alternatives. In addition the Federal government passed legislation in 2002 (Help America Vote Act)that created standards for voting equipment and funding to states to make the switch. In the rush to pass this new law some key elements were left out, such as a voter verifiable paper receipt. In 2003, a bill (Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003)has been introduced in hopes to update the original HAVA Act with specific solutions to the question of voter verified paper receipts and other discrepancies.

Casting ballots by touch screen or other computerized methods were touted as a solution to the now infamous “hanging chads” in 2000. But the issue turns out to be much more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Switching from mechanical voting to electronic can solve the hanging chad problem but it brings in a whole new set of concerns. One issue of particular concern to fair voting activists are electronic voting machines that use proprietary software to count the votes.

Electronicvoting equipment vendors have maintained that their systems are secure, and that the closed-source nature makes them even more secure. Verified Voting notes, “In response to the need to upgrade outdated election systems, many states and communities are considering acquiring “Direct Recording Electronic” (DRE) voting machines (such as “touch-screen voting machines” mentioned frequently in the press). Some have already acquired them. Unfortunately, there is insufficient awareness that these machines pose an unacceptable risk that errors or deliberate election-rigging will go undetected, since they do not provide a way for the voters to verify independently that the machine correctly records and counts the votes they have cast.”

Onepossible solution could be to demand that electronic voting machines use open-source software developed in the open with opportunity for public scrutiny. An open process would result in more careful development, as more scientists, software engineers, political activists, and others who value their democracy would be paying attention to the quality of the software that is used for their elections. Open source software wouldn’t solve all the problems and it would be important to include additional security options such as a voter-verified audit trail (allowing for electronic voting systems that produce a paper trail that can be seen and verified by a voter). If, for whatever reason, the machines cannot name the winner of an election, then the paper ballots can be recounted, either mechanically or manually, to gain progressively more accurate election results.

VerifiedVoting offers this policy resolution for election officials to consider with respect to future investments in voting equipment:

“Computerized voting equipment is inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering. It is therefore crucial that voting equipment provide a voter-verifiable audit trail, by which we mean a permanent record of each vote that can be checked for accuracy by the voter before the vote is submitted, and is difficult or impossible to alter after it has been checked. Many of the electronic voting machines being purchased do not satisfy this requirement. Voting machines should not be purchased or used unless they provide a voter-verifiable audit trail; when such machines are already in use, they should be replaced or modified to provide a voter-verifiable audit trail. Providing a voter-verifiable audit trail should be one of the essential requirements for certification of new voting systems.”