Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Electronic voting in San Antonio

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.

We all know the concerns about electronic voting, at least for the black-box/proprietary code variety (see here for some background), but this is the first article I’ve seen in which a county official has tried to counter the doubters.

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.

In order:

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?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Renee Cellmer says:

    I don’t have any problem with computer voting. What I do have a problem with is the way the voting is organized. I am in precinct 4130. My neighbor and I had a hellacious time finding our voting location, first of all. We were at the back of the line when one of the officials told us to come forward. We moved forward. My friend was in front of me and he was processed through and voted. Then a bunch of people pushed in front of me and were processed. Finally one lady behind the desk looked at me and took my card and ID. The lady asked me to move down the table and I did. When I thought I was going to get to vote all these people behind me said, “no she can’t vote because she pushed in front of us.” I did not push in front of anyone. I was told to go where I went and I did. The lady behind the desk told me to go to the end of the line. I explained to them that my neighbor who JUST VOTED AND WAS WAITING FOR ME was not going to wait for me if I was right behind him. The women in line INSISTED I be moved to the back of the line. I told the ladies not to worry about it, I just would not vote, because my neighbor was going to leave me. The lady behind the table told me I COULD NOT LEAVE because she had already filled in my paperwork. Again she said I could not leave. I told her I didn’t have a choice…and I would have been VERY UNCOMFORTABLE staying with the hostility that was expressed toward me. Incidently, all the other persons who supposedly CUT IN FRONT were allowed to go through and they were ALL MEN. So, I wasted almost an hour waiting in line and wasted 45 minutes finding the damn place…only to not get to vote. I have been awake since 3:00 this morning. I worked as a teacher all day and went to meetings after school. By the time I got home and changed into shorts and a shirt I probably didn’t appear to be OF THE CLASS that was waiting in line. I actually got the opinion they thought I was some low-life sit at home welfare mom. That is how ugly they were. I have to go grade papers now…maybe some of their childrens…Renee Charette-Cellmer