San Antonio is the latest city to adopt electronic voting, and the latest city to feel a bit queasy about doing so.
With Bexar County's first fully electronic election less than three weeks away, some are raising red flags about what they see as a vulnerable paperless ballot process.
"There's something about this technology that obscures your ability to ever really know the outcome of an election, because there's no paper trail," said Alyssa Burgin, a member of Citizens for Ethical Government.
On Sept. 13, voters statewide will hit the polls to cast ballots on 22 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.
Those in Bexar County will do so using $8.1 million worth of touch-screen machinery touted as user-friendly.
County officials contend that the machines, made by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software, are secure.
"There's no fail-safe system in voting," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. "But I think the new touch screen system is better than anything else we've seen."
But there are challenges that come with electronic voting, which is spreading throughout the country as officials turn to technology for elections that produce fast results.
"The technology itself opens up new kinds of fraud that we haven't seen before," said David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University who studies electronic voting.
One suggestion critics have is to print out a receipt at the time a ballot is cast. The voter could confidentially review the paper ballot to make sure it matches their computerized choices and then place the paper ballot in a lock box.
[Bexar County Elections Administrator Cliff] Borofsky raised several concerns with a printed receipt:
Would the electronic result or the printed page be the official record of an election?
What if the printer goes out?
On a long ballot, like next month's 22-amendment slate, will people remember how they voted on each question?
Since allowing voters to stop and review their ballot would add extra time at the polls, will the county have to buy more machines to get voters in and out in the required time?
Borofsky said investing in printers would cost an additional $2.5 million in addition to the $8.1 million the county has already invested in the touch-screen machines.
1. The printed page would be the official ballot. That's the best defense against fraud. Sure, it's possible to do bad things with printed ballots, but we have a lot more experience guarding against it and detecting it when it does happen. As far as I'm concerned, the fancy touchscreens should be used only as the interface, not as the database.
2. You can always use regular optical-scan ballots as a backup if there are no extra printers available. Honestly, though, I'd advocate having a printer built into every electronic voting machine.
3. This is a red herring. In Harris County, at least, the eSlate machines allow you to review your ballot before you cast the actual vote. Those who take the time to review their ballots before they commit to them will know if there's an error on the hard copy. Besides, no one is saying we must have perfection (if that were true, we wouldn't be where we are now, anyway).
4. Maybe. Maybe the counties can push early voting, which would help alleviate the congestion. Hell, maybe it's time the whole country re-thought the idea of having elections on a single weekday instead of, say, over a weekend. As with the previous point, this is mostly FUD.
5. It always comes down to money, doesn't it? Look at it this way - would you rather spend $8.1 million on a bad solution, or $10.6 million on a good one? Alternately, if there's a scandal that results from the inability to verify electronic votes, how much will it cost to fix that? I guarantee the extra $2.5 mil is cheap insurance and money well spent.
What do you say, Mr. Borofsky? Is your mind made up, or are you willing to consider the possibility that the solution you have in place isn't what it's cracked up to be?Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 25, 2003 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack