When you cast your ballot for Election Day 2012, there’s a good chance it will be on an electronic machine. But are these devices really trustworthy?
According the experts, there might still be some reliability issues, but your e-vote today is much more secure than it was four years ago.
“In general terms, the nation as a whole is moving toward more resilient, more recountable, evidence-based voting systems and that’s a good thing,” said Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation. “We’re better off than we were a couple of election cycles ago by a long shot and we’re better off than we were in the last election, too.”
“We’re seeing improvement, but we’re still seeing immense challenges.”
We all know about the disastrous vote count in Florida in 2000, with those hanging chads and butterfly ballots, and the subsequent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hand the state and the presidency to George W. Bush.
In the 12 years since then, the types of voting machines in use then — the lever machines and, in many places, the paper ballots themselves — have been replaced with either an electronic voting machine or optical scan ballots.
As Michael Alvarez, professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology, Caltech in Pasadena and co-director of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project explained on NPR last week:
So they’ve evolved considerably. And the good news – we just did a report that we released recently, and the good news is that the work that we’ve done in Caltech and MIT indicates that these new voting machines that people are going to be using in this election are generally cleaning the process up in the sense that they’re producing more accurate voting. They’re producing more reliable voting for folks.
More reliable voting? Well, that’s good, but not entirely reassuring. What about voting machines that don’t produce a paper record? Are they secure? According to Verified Voting, one out of every four voters who goes to the polls for this U.S. election, a total of more than 45 million voters, will be using an electronic machine that doesn’t have a paper record.
Again, from CNN:
Six states — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina — use those machines exclusively and they’re used by a “heavy majority” of voters in another five — including presidential battleground states Pennsylvania and Virginia. Some of these paperless machines are also used in the key states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado, where the presidential race is expected to be close.
Then there’s the fact that voting machines in the critical states of Ohio and Colorado are owned by a company that has extensive connections to the Romney family. Oh, and the same machines will also be used in Texas, Oklahoma and Washington.
Even aside from that frightening fact, if there is no physical ballot, how can you tell if there has been any kind of irregularity or tampering? That might not be important in a landslide election, but in 2012, that is not the case.
Alvarez is well aware of this problem, and pointed out on NPR that he has been advocating for electronic machines to be equipped with some form of voter verified paper trail, so that there are two records of every vote.
Apparently, many states have adopted this procedure: election officials nationwide no longer buy voting machines that don’t also produce a paper trail. In addition, some states are updating their electronic voting machines with hardware that will also create a paper ballot. The last significant purchase of electronic-only voting machines in the U.S. was seven years ago.
So yes, things have improved vastly since 2000, but there are still some areas of concern.
Here’s how Alvarez reassured his audience on NPR:
And so, you know, there are these concerns that arise from time to time. And, you know, again, I think that, you know, there’s a fair bit of trust that we have in the integrity of our election officials, in particular, that they have, you know, gone and tested and verified the integrity of these systems. You know, by and large, you know, our elevation officials do a wonderful job, I think, given the resource that they have to test and certify these systems.
And the most important thing: your vote definitely won’t count if you don’t show up, so be sure to vote.
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