E-Voting: No Fix Yet

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Happy Trails?

As VerifiedVoting's Dill (among others) asserts, a paper trail alone is not a panacea. Legislation mandating that the paper trail, and not the electronic ballot, be treated as the official ballot in a recount is essential as well. But only 15 of the 23 states requiring a paper trail adopt this rule, according to Electionline.org.

VerifiedVoting is also fighting to have states with paper-trail laws on their books conduct mandatory hand audits of paper ballots after each election. The audits would compare a random sampling of 1 percent (or more) of the paper votes against the electronic votes, to help authorities verify the accuracy of the electronic votes and detect malicious or malfunctioning code. Currently only 13 states require mandatory random hand counts. "With paper trails, questions about 'When do they look at them? How do they protect them? What happens if a discrepancy is discovered?' are still largely unresolved in most parts of the country," Dill says. He believes they're likely to be resolved only after disastrous elections occur

The May primary in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous, illustrates what might occur as states roll out new equipment. During a three-month investigation of the election, researchers found disturbing discrepancies in the vote totals between paper-trail ballots and electronic ballots. In addition, 10 percent of the ballots were classified as "destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together, or otherwise compromised."

Some paper-trail rolls lacked ID numbers, so researchers couldn't match them to the right machines. And evidently some poll workers tried to resolve printer problems either by shutting down and restarting voting machines or by removing and replacing their memory cards. Such interference can result in votes being erased from the card or otherwise lost if poll workers fail to preserve the chain of custody of the cards. It can also disrupt the vote summaries on a machine, making it more difficult to reconcile vote totals with the number of voters listed as having cast ballots.

Due to the lack of complete data, the investigators couldn't rule out the possiblity that software computational errors caused some of the vote discrepancies. Diebold has said that the study used improper methods and that votes were not lost, because officials still had the electronic records from the machines. County election officials said that they could provide explanations for some discrepancies, but investigators have yet to verify them.

"I don't think that Cuyahoga's experience suggests that paper trails are bad," says Chapin. "But if they'd had to use the VVPAT as a ballot of record, they would have been in trouble."

Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Election Board, says he was generally happy with the machines and paper trails. The problem, in his opinion, was inadequate training of poll workers in how to set up the machines and address glitches with machines and paper rolls before and during the election.

"We had 7000 poll workers," Vu says, "and there's always a huge learning curve in moving to new systems. The last shift in voting technology we had was 24 years ago."

Slowly, some of the problems with electronic voting systems are being corrected; and as election officials gain experience, errors caused by inadequate training may decrease. But the sporadic, temporary nature of the job makes any increase in the needed level of poll workers' training problematic. Issues with security holes remain as well, and still-new paper trails can do only so much to help.

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