Aside from the lawsuits, accusations of discrimination against minorities, e-voting glitches, long lines and anticipated polling-place chaos, everything ought to go just fine in Florida on Election Day. A new Mason-Dixon poll showed that most Floridians think Nov. 2 will progress smoothly, though they also would like it better if those darned touch-screen machines had paper trails, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
Sixty-nine percent of the 625 respondents in the telephone survey said the machines should include paper trails, and while 62 percent said they think the votes will be counted accurately, 52 percent are worried about fraud tainting election results, the Orlando Sentinel wrote.
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The nature of the controversy surrounding electronic voting has changed little since reports surfaced in the past year questioning its security and reliability. What has changed is the urgency. With time running out between now and Election Day, more activists, politicians and -- most importantly -- voters want firm answers about whether the technology that more than 50 million people will use to choose their president this year will record their choices correctly.
Most experts on either side of the issue acknowledge that it would be virtually impossible to modify paperless machines to include voter-verified paper records, but that is not stopping an increasingly vocal grassroots movement from trying to make that change happen before Nov. 2. In at least one case in Florida, a state with a unique and notorious history of Election Day troubles, a federal judge ruled that a paper trail is a must.
washingtonpost.com has presented ongoing coverage of some of the effects that the electronic voting debate is having on the D.C. metropolitan area. Here we offer a roundup of some of the major electronic voting issues taking place with increasing frequency around the country in the runup to the election. Many of these stories reflect an increasing awareness in the media and among voters of the challenges facing the voting process throughout the nation, coupled with a realization that although the debate is more topical than ever, its resolution will not come until after the nation goes back to the polls for what is anticipated to be one of the closest presidential elections in many years.
The most recent entries are listed first.
For what it's worth, 77 percent of voters would prefer that touch-screen machines have a paper trail, according to a telephone survey of 750 adults conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates Inc., on behalf of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.
The Sentinel, meanwhile, took the requisite bipartisan snapshot of reaction: "Samuel Luellen, 74, of Leesburg and a registered Democrat, said, 'There's going to be some hanky-panky going on; I have no doubt of that. There's such division here after Bush was installed as president that something's going to happen to favor the Republicans. Notice I didn't say [Bush was] elected.' Meanwhile, Tom Kirley, 56, of Oldsmar, a registered Republican, has the opposite view. 'I'm sure there'll be some noise like there was before if it's close again,' he said. 'But you have both sides watching each other; nothing will happen.'"
Remember that run on absentee ballots we mentioned Wednesday? The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that voters in Broward County have requested 125,041 absentee ballots as of early yesterday, with as many as 34,000 processed in the past week. The paper also reported that only 1,500 were completed by yesterday evening. "Independent groups encouraged absentee ballots as a way of ensuring that a paper record would exist of each voter's choices, something the county's electronic voting machines do not provide," the Sun-Sentinel reported. In other words, we're not sayin', we're just sayin' ...
New Jersey state officials might be under legal attack for using electronic voting machines in various parts of the state, but things could have turned out differently. The Bergen Record reported that North Jersey is still waiting on $70 million in federal funding to modernize its voting systems. "States have until the end of next year to meet the requirements of the law. But so far the New Jersey Division of Elections has spent just a fraction of the state's allotment on a voter education campaign featuring such celebrities as Billy Baldwin and Joe Piscopo," the Record reported. "The slow release of cash for other projects has put some local elections officials in a jam."
Oct. 19: Take Those Machines Out to the Meadowlands
Eight thousand electronic voting machines in New Jersey must be set aside because they are not reliable enough to be used on Election Day, a lawsuit filed today in New Jersey charges. Or, as the New York Post put it: "Suit Bids to Zap N.J.'s High-Tech Vote Gizmos."
"More than 3 million voters in 15 of the Garden State's 21 counties are slated to use the electronic machines -- but critics say that the units don't provide a paper record of the vote, making a physical recount impossible," the Post reported.
Critics dismissed the merits of the lawsuit, filed by the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. "Our experience in New Jersey has not revealed any problem with the electronic voting machines," said state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey (D), as quoted by the New York Times.
More from the Times: "Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Trenton and one of the plaintiffs named in the suit, says there are too many reports that the machines are unreliable and can be tampered with. 'Our slot machines in New Jersey are more secure,' Gusciora said."
Oct. 19: Glitcheola
For the record, that's not the new town they built next to Kissimmee; instead, it's the new term we're coining to characterize the prelude to Florida's latest voting odyssey. The Sunshine State's early voting process began yesterday and, depending on the local news source, the technology glitches that left their mark either were easily dealt-with errors or an ominous portent of voting nightmares to come.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel saw trouble ahead: "A computer glitch that disconnected poll workers from crucial ballot information shut down nine of Broward County's 14 early voting sites on Monday, leaving some irate voters waiting in lines for as long as two hours and raising the specter of another 2000 election embarrassment for South Florida. With no contingency plan in place, election officials had to scramble to get the poll workers the information they needed to process thousands of voters trying to take advantage of the state's first early voting experiment."
The Palm Beach Post reported that "many" interpreted the long lines, malfunctioning machines and shortage of support personnel at the polls as "a grim harbinger of the Nov. 2 presidential election." One excerpt from the Post piece: "'It's going to make Florida a laughingstock again,' said Rabbi Harlan Kilstein of the long lines at the Southwest County Regional Library west of Boca Raton, where the voting was hampered by delays in electronically checking voter registrations. 'Gear up for the late night [comedy] programs.'"
What seemed to be the main glitch, however, was voter impatience, as this quote from the Miami Herald shows: "'I've never seen anything like this in my life,' said Marjorie Jacobs, 90, of Hallandale Beach, who went home after waiting 2 1/2 hours in vain. 'I'm coming back and voting on Election Day.'"
Florida's newspapers took care to note that the computer problems that slowed voters down Monday were not related to touch-screen machines in use throughout the state. Nevertheless, a telling photograph and caption in Jacksonville's Times-Union support complaints from some groups that the machines don't necessarily accomplish their makers' objectives. The caption says it all: "World War II veteran Johnnie Davis, who is sight impaired, tries to vote using a touch-screen machine with audio Monday in Duval County. Davis had difficulty with the machine and switched to a paper ballot with assistance."
Southwestern Floridians might have been soaked by the hurricane gantlet, but weathered few problems -- if any -- with early voting. Lee County Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington told the Fort Myers News-Press that the county was better able to anticipate problems like Broward's by limiting the number of early-voting sites: "I wanted to keep it in the main offices for a while ... We've got well-trained staff at these three sites and we've avoided those kinds of technical problems." The Sarasota Herald-Tribune found all manner of satisfied voters despite their sometimes lengthy waits: "Carlos and Natalie Miranda said they fit voting into their errands Monday. 'We had business in town [so] we thought we could get two things done at the same time,' said Carlos Miranda, who lives outside Sarasota. The Mirandas waited about 20 minutes while elections officials informed them about the voting machines. At a counter, staff asked for identification, and then it was off to the voting machines, they said. 'It was about 45 minutes,' Carlos Miranda said. 'The machines are very clear, and the whole process was very pleasant.'"
Oct. 18: A Look Inside the Black Box
Computerworld today offered up its synopsis of the electronic voting controversy, providing the most important milestones along the path of how we got to here from there. The biggest addition that the article makes to the burgeoning reams of text already out there is source commentary. One of the best comes from Jonathan Gossels, founder of Sudbury, Mass.-based SystemExperts Corp. Gossels, according to the article, said "his review of the Diebold code showed that it was 'amateurish' in its design. More important, the amount of code that has been studied and found wanting 'is only the tip of the iceberg' of the millions of lines of C++ and Microsoft Windows-based code that powers the Diebold touch-screen systems and back-end management servers."
The article also gets into the messy thicket of how voting machines are independently, if not transparently, certified: "One of the most critical aspects of the voting system development process is the testing and certification of hardware and software to ensure that they meet voluntary federal voting standards for security and reliability. Three vendors act as so-called independent testing authorities (ITA). However, IT experts are highly critical of the testing process because of its secrecy... Ciber Inc. in Greenwood Village, Colo., and SysTest Labs LLC in Denver act as the two software ITAs. Wyle Laboratories Inc. in El Segundo, Calif., is the hardware ITA. All of them refuse to provide details on how they test the voting equipment or on their findings."
Another item to look out for in Computerworld's e-voting coverage include a summary of the studies by Johns Hopkins University professor Aviel D. Rubin and others that pushed the story into the mainstream media. Also see the Q&A session with Frank Wiebe, president and co-founder of Tustin, Calif.-based AccuPoll, a company that makes a touch-screen voting machine with a voter-verified paper trail.
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) learned the hard way that the old saying about quitting while you're ahead is true. Clyburn, according to the Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, S.C., test drove the iVotronic touch-screen voting machine made by Elections Systems & Software. The first demo, conducted with help from an assistant, went fine. Problem is, Clyburn decided to fly solo on the second try and the machine failed to display the necessary instructions, the paper reported.
Hannah Majewski, spokeswoman for the South Carolina elections board, told washingtonpost.com that the machine Clyburn used was designed for disabled voters, though anyone can use it. But in order to get the visual presentation started, Majewski said, voters must touch the screen. As the Times and Democrat reported, "It's a simple step -- but it's missing from the instructions." And Clyburn apparently didn't pick up on this at first.