I’ll start this piece by stating that I’m not a huge fan of electronic voting machines in the present moment. These machines are often outdated and constantly under attack for being hackable, crackable, and riddled with issues. If anything, my thoughts are that coupling these machines with a paper receipt that allows for double-checking after the fact is the way to go. You get your fast counts in, but also have a method of making sure your vote was counted correctly.
Today, my social network feeds are flooded with videos and articles indicating that voting machines are malfunctioning in various counties around the US. One popular video demonstrates a voter selecting Barack Obama on a touchscreen only to have a checkmark appear next to Mitt Romney’s name.
In the video’s description, a Pennsylvania voter told his story.
“I initially selected Obama but Romney was highlighted. I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney. Being a software developer, I immediately went into troubleshoot mode. I first thought the calibration was off and tried selecting Jill Stein to actually highlight Obama. Nope. Jill Stein was selected just fine. Next I deselected her and started at the top of Romney’s name and started tapping very closely together to find the ‘active areas.’ From the top of Romney’s button down to the bottom of the black checkbox beside Obama’s name was all active for Romney. From the bottom of that same checkbox to the bottom of the Obama button (basically a small white sliver) is what let me choose Obama. Stein’s button was fine. All other buttons worked fine.”
This is likely just a case of a poorly calibrated touchscreen, but still an issue. How many voters will visit that particular machine today in an attempt to vote for President Barack Obama only to find that it won’t allow them to?
The state of Ohio has been embroiled in a legal battle claiming that electronic voting machines being utilized within the state didn’t receive proper testing by the appropriate oversight bodies.
Unlike paper ballots, electronic voting machines can also cause huge delays when they go down. A broken voting machine in Milwaukee caused a 30-minute delay for some of the estimated 500 voters rushing to the polls before work at a local elementary school.
This isn’t to say that paper ballots aren’t prone to their own issues. The term “hanging chad” is a permanent addition to American slang referring to a failure of clarity. This stems from the controversial election of 2000 where Florida became the deciding battleground state. The difference between then-Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore came down to a handful of votes that were cast and recounted over and over again.
Oh, and if you think voting machines are especially secure, you should check out RT’s report on just how easy the machines are to hack.
This isn’t an issue of politics as much as it is one of accuracy. Voting machines may be more accurate and dependable than hanging or dimpled chads in theory, but in practice we have a technology that is antiquated and proven to be faulty. I wouldn’t trust a Microsoft Surface to count my vote properly every time. Why? Because I’ve seen it misinterpret a touch in even the few instances where I handled one. That’s a capacitive touchscreen, and many of these polling stations are still using resistive screens which are easily knocked out of calibration.
This is why I (personally) am in favor of voting receipts. If a voting machine in a particular station is found to be faulty, there’s no reason any of the votes cast in that machine shouldn’t be scrutinized and compared to a paper copy of the record. Likewise, any technology that is capable of being hacked and influenced by a malicious individual should never be trusted to be 100% accurate.
Personally, I don’t care who people vote for. What matters to me is what happens to those votes after they’re cast. We could arguably have had a different President, and in many cases different state and local officials elected in a number of recent campaigns if we had a two-factor authentication system in place.
The Washington Post raised an interesting question that I would like to pass on to you. Do you believe that electronic voting machines are a potential problem?