The dispute over electronic voting is as heated as a debate
between presidential candidates. The risks versus the benefits are discussed, investigated, and argued. But what are
the facts that lie beneath the fuss?
The key function of an
electronic voting system is to obtain voter preferences and report them—reliably and accurately.
Some assert that electronic systems are safer than
other methods of voting because they implement security
checks and audit trails, and are tougher to tamper with
than paper ballots.
One of the most widely used electronic voting systems.
Diebold Election Systems
, boasts some 33,000 voting
stations in locations across the United States.
Diebold's AccuVote-TS system is a voter-activated interactive touchscreen system using an intelligent Voter Card as the voter interface. The interface allows voters to view and cast their votes by touching target areas on an electronically generated ballot pad.
Each unit provides a direct-entry computerized voting
station that automatically records and stores ballot information and results. While classified as a direct record entry
(DRE) device, the AccuVote-TS system has additional capabilities. The tabulator is a multifunctional interface that
counts and tabulates the ballots at precincts on election
day and communicates with the host computer at Election
Central for accurate and timely jurisdiction wide results.
However, electronic voting systems have generated concern because their work is not readily accessible for inspection; what goes on behind the screen is a mystery to the
general public and therefore causes uneasiness.
With computer voting, voter records are intangibly stored on a hard
drive, with voting results recorded in electronic memory.
Indeed, a July 2003 analysis of the Diebold touch screen
by computer researchers from Johns Hopkins and Rice universities (found at https://www.newscientist.com
that the software was riddled with errors and open to fraud.
However, even with the possibility of fraud, electronic systems may still be safer than prior methods of voting because they implement redundant security checks and audits and may be more difficult to tamper with because of the size and nature of their tabulating components.
Another argument in favor of paper ballots, or at least
paper receipts, is that in order to verify an election, all you
need to do is gather up the ballots and tabulate them a second (or third, as the case may be) time. However, auditing
paper ballot systems is not always as easy as it sounds. Ballots, particularly punch-cards, sometimes provide ambiguous results, as seen in a recent presidential election. They
are easily forged and they must be physically handled and
transported, which provides the opportunity for substitution or loss.
Whether computerized or traditional, no election system
is infallible, and in truth, perhaps it doesn't need to be. As
some have said, every safe has the capability to be cracked.
The same is true for voting systems. The issue is not
whether they are 100 percent secure, but whether they present adequate safeguards to give us faith in the integrity of our elections.