Saturday, July 22, 2006

Voting Machinations

There's an election coming up this November, an important one. Both parties are busy campaigning, working hard to find the right message that will fire up the voters enough to get them to actually stand up and, well, vote. That, of course, has been a problem in this country lately. Less than half of all eligible voters actually vote, and far less than half vote during off year elections. Candidates for office have to work hard on that issue.

Getting out the vote, however, is not the end of the problem, not by a longshot. What isn't being discussed and then dealt with is just as serious: securing the integrity of the vote. From an AP report earlier this week:

If this fall's elections abound with voting problems, members of Congress cannot say they were not warned.

Experts told members of two House committees on Wednesday that security for electronic voting machines is inadequate, lab testing of this machinery is insufficient and a paper record of voting is essential to protect election integrity.

The lawmakers also heard reassurances that potential problems are being addressed.

"The federal standards are not sufficient to prove that election systems are able to guarantee federally approved voting systems can adequately protect the integrity of our elections against unintentional failures or against tampering," said David Wagner, a specialist in computer science from the University of California-Berkeley.

An election official from Minnesota, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, said paper records are critical. At least half the states will keep a "paper trail" of voting this year.

An official with the federal agency created to ensure successful elections tried to assure lawmakers that all steps are being taken to train elections officials and workers and make certain equipment is up to standards.

"We're looking at every aspect of elections," said Donetta Davidson, a member of the Election Assistance Commission. "We haven't found any problems with equipment. The problems we find are human error. The more elections officials train their people, the fewer problems we will have."
[Emphasis added]

The debacle in Florida in the 2000 election (the one that allowed the Supreme Court to crown the Emperor) resulted in the end of the hanging chad problem, but replaced it with a new one. At least in 2000, there were ballots that could be physically examined and counted by hand. Under most of the electronic voting machine systems, there are no 'ballots' that can be examined and counted. Checking the configuration of electrons on a hard disc is just not the same. We learned that in 2004 in Ohio, where even now there are private investigations and fulminations on the very real possibility that the electronic voting machines were hacked and votes hijacked.

Concerns about the security of the new voting system remain two years later, yet nothing of substance has been done about it. I am sure the problems with the machines are human in nature, but I also believe that it's not just a matter of human error.

Unless and until better security is established with the new systems, and the integrity of the election re-established, voter turnout will continue to be depressed. After all, why bother to vote if your vote is going to be compromised and not counted.

But then, perhaps that's the whole point, isn't it.


Anonymous sister of ye said...

Another excellent post.

I have no doubt whatsover that Ohio was stolen in 2004, as badly as Florida was in 2000. Sometimes it irks me that even liberal bloogers refuse to credit it.

There are so many easy ways to make voting more citizen-friendly.

- Efficient voter registration and updating
- A more comfortable setting. Benches to sit on while waiting would ease the discomfort of standing in line. Precincts could even adopt a "take a number" system where voters can review the ballot while waiting.
- Civic groups could provide coffee and donuts or other refreshments for those big-year elections. Wouldn't that be appreciated by people trying to squeeze in voting before work, or putting off dinner afterward?

Maybe we should start running our own progressive candidates for community clerk and secretary of state positions, so we can introduce some creativity and common sense into the process. And above all integrity.

6:14 AM  
Blogger cabearie said...

Maybe we should start running our own progressive candidates for community clerk and secretary of state positions, so we can introduce some creativity and common sense into the process. And above all integrity.


It's clear that the most important elected state official right now is not the governor but the Secretary of State.

The most important local official right now is not the mayor but the Registrar of Voters/Country Clerk for Elections.

Many of us are just now figuring that out.

BTW, I really appreciate your comments. They keep me thinking, something I always need.

7:07 AM  

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