There's reason to be wary of electronic voting systems
By Michael Dercks
Date: December 20, 2003
Governments are rushing to install new voting systems, hoping to prevent another voting debacle like Florida's 2000 elections. By the 2004 elections, states and municipalities will have spent billions replacing paper ballets, butterfly ballots and punch-card systems.
The new Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems seem promising. Operating properly, they make voting simple, accurate and efficient. DRE ballets can be multilingual and changed easily, saving printing time and costs. Touch screens make DRE systems user-friendly and accessible to those with physical impairments. It's no surprise DRE systems are being ordered in large numbers.
But are DRE systems secure and reliable? Some election officials are beginning to have doubts. DRE systems have exhibited troubling failures, are substandard in software engineering and security, and provide no audit trail or receipt. How confident would you feel having these systems count your vote?
Would you feel confident knowing a CEO was running for office and the DRE systems his company manufactured were used to count the votes in his election? What if the company manufacturing DRE systems was foreign-owned or software was developed overseas?
Would you feel confident knowing these high-tech systems have reported vote totals of negative 16,022 votes for a candidate? Would you feel confident knowing audits of voting machine systems manufacturers claim to be secure and reliable were found to have serious security and functional flaws?
These are all real problems with DRE systems, and, personally, I am not confident. All voting systems have potential for error and fraud, but mechanisms for recording the votes in older systems were clear and understandable. DRE systems are cloaked in corporate secrecy. Their mistakes can go undetected. Further, DRE systems are different in the magnitude of possible error and fraud. Worms and viruses have wreaked havoc on thousands of systems in a matter of minutes. With DRE systems connected to the Internet, hackers could poison an election.
The benefits of DRE voting may justify the risks. We may be forced to trust the vendors and the systems. Nonetheless, the advice of former President Ronald Reagan concerning arms deals with the former Soviet Union is very appropriate: Trust but verify.
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