Florida, 2000 presidential electionthe vote count long will be recalled as a low point in U.S. democratic politics.
The hue and cry of electoral corruption and a stolen election compelled the U.S. Congress to act. Boldly, it committed $3.9 billion in matching federal funds to assist states in the transition toward digital voting systems. Here, under the flag of the Help America Vote Act, was the answer for hanging chads.
Remarkably, about 30 percent of the electorate50 million voters or sowill submit a ballot in the coming November elections using paperless machines. Be worried. The e-voting system in place is dangerously vulnerable to fraud.
Its not that electronic voting is a new innovation. A number of counties have utilized optical-scan and punch-key machines since the late 1960s. Then, nearly a decade ago, paperless touch-screen machines arrived, though at the time their high cost made their widespread use prohibitive for all but a few counties. The manufacturers of the new generation of machines promote their wares as affordable and easier to use.
Unfortunately, paperless touch-screen machines also are more susceptible to voter fraud. When optical-scan machines go haywire, poll officials have recourse to a back-up, printed document of how the original vote was cast. Touch-screen ballots, on the other hand, do not leave a paper trail, so officials cannot retrace voter intentions.
THE EARLY USE of touch-screens show that these red flags should be heeded. In North Carolinas 2002 general election, six touch-screen machines malfunctioned and deleted 436 electronic ballots. In a post-election investigation, the manufacturer determined that the machines erroneously had stopped counting votes even while the polls were still open.