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Saturday, October 30, 2004

it's not the week for electronic voting either


this year about 30 percent of voters will face newer, electronic systems. Yet the sleek touchscreens are far from glitch-free. Last January, Ellyn Bogdanoff pulled out a narrow victory in a runoff race for a Florida state Senate seat: 12 votes. State law required an automatic recount. There was just one problem. The touchscreen machines used in the election left no paper trail—all the votes were tallied digitally—making an examination of the actual votes impossible. Doing a recount was a meaningless exercise, akin to adding identical numbers into a calculator twice; you'd get the same answer each time. Election officials did notice something strange. Out of nearly 11,000 votes cast, there were 137 left blank, far more than the margin of victory. The losing candidate, Oliver Parker, wanted to know why. He and Bogdanoff were the only ones on the ballot. Why would anyone who cared enough to go all the way to a polling place for a little-known runoff walk away without casting a vote? Had the machines malfunctioned and failed to record the vote? Without any way to answer the question, Bogdanoff was certified the winner.

That was a state Senate seat. Picture the chaos next month if Bush vs. Kerry comes down to a few hundred votes in Florida, or parts of Ohio—both states that use touchscreen machines without paper backups—and there's no way to put the results under the microscope. No surprise that lawsuits are stacking up in Florida. Ohio has already decided to outfit all machines with paper—by 2006. "We jumped out of the soup and into the fire," says David Jefferson, a tech adviser to California, which has had its own share of problems with e-machines. "We were, in a way, too quick to rush to computerize." Jefferson, who jokes he's such a tech geek he'd "buy an Internet toaster" if there were such a thing, says he'd take punch cards, with all their problems, over the uncheckable electronic machines. Nevada is the only state that currently has paper backups on all its machines. Voters can read the paper ballot through a glass window. When they hit the screen to approve it, the paper drops into a sealed box.

Newsweek - Oct. 18 2004 issue
A Clean Count? Page 2: The Tech Factor: Voters Face New Electronic Systems
Note: may load slowly - very junk loaded pages.
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