In the summer of 2004, I attended a national meeting of state election directors, and one of the biggest laugh lines was how activists were demanding that electronic voting machines produce a paper record of every vote cast... What a difference two years makes. Today, 27 states — including such large ones as California, New York, Illinois and Ohio — require electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper trail. There is paper-trail legislation pending in a dozen more states.
Using corrupt software to switch votes from one candidate to another is the easiest way to attack all three systems. A would-be hacker would have to overcome many hurdles to do this, the report says, but none is insurmountable.
Legislation pending in the House would require a voter-verified paper ballot for every vote cast in national elections...Public confidence in the voting process is at an all-time low, said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., the bill's chief sponsor.
From Florida to California, the nation's flirtation with electronic voting is on the rocks. More and more states and counties are reverting to paper ballots fed through optical scanners because of problems — some real, some perceived — with machines that didn't offer the level of security and transparency voters demand.
The point is, these [touch-screen] machines don't maintain any records that would allow you to see whether voters were having difficulties," said Douglas W. Jones, a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa who has studied the machines. "The race in Florida's 13th Congressional District was a perfect example of that.
Every 15 seconds or so, however, the rogue program checks the internal vote tallies, then adds and subtracts votes, as needed, to reach programmed targets; it also makes identical changes in the backup file. The alterations cannot be detected later because the total number of votes perfectly matches the total number of voters. At the end of the election day, the rogue program erases itself, leaving no trace.
- Can You Count on Voting Machines? [N.Y. Times, 6/1/2008]
More important, his paper trail prevents endless fighting over the results of tight elections. In one recent contest, a candidate claimed that his name had not appeared on the ballot in one precinct. So Sancho went into the Leon County storage, broke the security seals on the records, and pulled out the ballots. The name was there; the candidate was wrong. “He apologized to me,” Sancho recalls. “And that’s what you can’t do with touch-screen technology. You never could have proven to that person’s satisfaction that the screen didn’t show his name. I like that certainty. The paper ends the discussion.” Sancho has never had a legal fight over a disputed election result. “The losers have admitted they lost, which is what you want,” he adds. “You have to be able to convince the loser they lost.” That, in a nutshell, is what people crave in the highly partisan arena of modern American politics: an election that can be extremely close and yet regarded by all as fair. Not only must the losing candidate believe in the loss; the public has to believe in it, too.
- A Slashdot article about problems with electronic voting in Finland.