WashPost: Tech Trouble in the Voting Booth

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Wed Jul 26 2006 - 10:13:59 CDT


Tech Trouble in the Voting Booth
Jurisdictions May Not Be Ready for New Gear, Analysis Says
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; A15

Last year, a report called "Asking the Right
Questions About Electronic Voting" took a look at
the issues surrounding the move by most of the
country's election jurisdictions to electronic
voting machines. The report's theoretical
approach contrasted with the often bitter dispute
about the security of the technology between
activists and voting-machine vendors.
The report's authors -- a committee of National
Research Council experts, including prominent
computer scientists and two former governors --
then turned their attention to this year's
elections. What they found, according to a
council analysis released yesterday, is not
"Some jurisdictions -- and possibly many -- may
not be well prepared for the arrival of the
November 2006 elections with respect to the
deployment and use of electronic voting equipment
and related technology, and anxiety about this
state of affairs among election officials is
evident in a number of jurisdictions."
More than a third of all of the nation's 8,000
voting jurisdictions will use new voting
technology for the first time this year,
according to Election Data Services.
"This is a moment of truth for electronic
voting," said panel co-chairman Richard L.
Thornburgh, a former Republican governor of
Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general. "You've
got a lot of people who are working for the first
time with the new technology. It should impart a
greater note of caution than what you might
normally attend to a regular election."
Thornburgh said the analysis is a "caution sign,
not a stop sign, but not a clean bill of health
for a technology that everyone recognizes there
may be problems with."
The new voting technology includes optical-scan
and touch-screen machines. In 2004, only 10 to 15
percent of jurisdictions had replaced old voting
machines. Widespread efforts to replace outdated
voting machines came after passage of the 2002
Help America Vote Act, which set new standards
and procedures.
Concerns about the new technology -- largely
about alleged vulnerabilities to manipulation --
were raised nearly as soon as the machines were
rolled out.
So far, in this year's primaries, the problems
have been related to the machines breaking down
or being used incorrectly by election officials.
For example, optical-scan machines used in a May
primary in Cuyahoga County in Ohio could not read
the ballots because the black lines separating
sections were thicker than on ballots elsewhere
in the state, and the fill-in ovals were in a
different place, a review recently found. The
result was a long delay in ballot counting.
Numerous other localities have experienced
problems, most notably the delay in results of a
March primary in Cook County, Ill.
The National Research Council analysis notes
several potentially problematic areas. Some
states may be unable to comply with the 2002
law's deadlines for upgrading technology, meaning
it is not yet clear whether they will use old or
new technology this year. There are questions
about whether voters will be able to use the new
equipment without confusion, and whether there is
enough time to train poll workers.
"When organizations roll out technology, they do
it in a small way. They do a lot of testing and
prototyping. We're doing it in one fell swoop and
that creates certain kinds of risks," said
Herbert S. Lin, a senior research scientist who
served on the staff of the committee.
Among the report's recommendations is that
jurisdictions run tests on Election Day on
randomly selected machines.
Dana DeBeauvoir, clerk of Travis County, Tex.,
home to Austin, is credited with implementing one
of the most comprehensive plans for Election Day.
She'll do no fewer than three tests on her voting
machines to ensure they are giving accurate
"You're always looking for the latest threat.
That's not paranoid," she said. "That's good
scientific method. We're dealing with voting
systems that are scientific instruments."
2006 The Washington Post Company

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424

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Received on Mon Jul 31 23:17:08 2006

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