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E-Voting Raises New Issues

I tried the spin wheel years ago and found it initially confusing.


Baltimore, Md.: The Times, the Post, the Atlantic, and others have done significant reporting on how easy it is to tamper with votes recorded on Diebold machines. There is significant proof that Diebold CEOs favor the Bush White House. MY question is this: Why would anyone stand in line to have their vote stolen on election day? I am telling everyone I know to vote absentee, whether in person or by mail. Why is the general public not being told that their votes will be destroyed? Thank you for taking my question.

Dan Keating: Some people -- when you get into seriously twisted conspiracies -- would say that you've fallen for the bait. Historically, many, many absentee ballots are not counted because of problems with witnessing or signature problems, mismarked ballots or other technicalities. On the other hand, electronic votes are not subject to those problems.

so for fear of a POSSIBLE THREAT you are encouraging people to avoid the direct voting method for one with PROVEN problems.

Also, by emphasizing the problems, some activists may lower turnout by people who listen to them if people feel their vote won't be counted anyway.

Given that Dems and minorities suffered by far the most lost votes on old technology and stood the most to gain with the protections of new technology -- no overvotes, no hanging chads -- it's interesting that the biggest objection to the new technology is coming from Dems and minority groups. Some would say they've been led astray.


Arlington, Va.: Is there any reason to believe that electronic voting is any more susceptible to cheating than paper voting? Paper ballots can be unrecoverably destroyed, too, after all.

Dan Keating: In fact, one of the arguments for electronic voting is that there are proven fraud techniques with paper, lever, punchcard. If I recall correctly, the industry says and I don't think anyone's disproven the assertion that there's never been proved intentional fraud with electronic voting.

On the other hand, there definitely appear to have been programming errors and other mistakes that have cost votes on electronic. And a particularly brilliant hacker could possibly do something that leaves no fingerprints behind.

that's why some say the ideal is an electronic interface for voters -- to avoid overvotes, etc. -- that produces a paper ballot that the voter can read and a machine can tabulate. that would seem the have all the advantages except that there's still paper for election officials to deal with, which they don't like.


Toronto, Canada: Here in Toronto we have used the optical sense ballots for our past two municipal elections. Last night on PBS Newshour I saw that kind of ballot being used in an early election in, I believe, Florida.

I was shocked to see the election official insert the voter's ballots without using a privacy folder. In our elections the voter fold the ballot in a folder before they hand it to the election official. The election official lays the folder on the scanner, where the scanner can withdraw the ballot without showing anyone how the voter voted.

Shocking. Not only did the election official have a chance to examine how the ballot was marked, they didn't appear to be inserting it in front of the voter, either.

Can you explain to a foreigner why your Federal elections are managed and administered by local amateurs and partisan pols?

Dan Keating: Historically, elections are a local responsibility. The advantage of local control is that people trust local officials more than faraway bureaucrats.

With the Voting Rights struggle, the feds had to step in to stop abuse by local officials. The feds are hesitant to take too strong a role right now because if they do, they'll have to pay for it.

I can't speak to the technique being used at the machine except that individual pollworkers are where the rubber meets the road, and lots of things can happen.

Second chance technology -- where a voter is notified is a ballot is marked incorrectly -- does present risk of loss of the secret ballot.


St. Louis, Mo.: One of the stories I read early this year said that the main manufacturer of electronic voting machines (whose names escapes me, I'm sorry) is a major contributor to the Republican party. Given the shenanigans of the last presidential election, it makes sense to me to have machines created by companies that do not have an interest in the outcome. Has there been any consideration made for an independent or overseas company to create and maintain these machines?

Dan Keating: The thought of an overseas company would cause much, much more fear.

As I wrote back in May, the president of Diebold worked as a fundraiser for Pres. Bush and wrote in a fundraising letter that he was committed to securing the Ohio vote for Bush. Diebold is a large company of which the election portion is a small and relatively recent acquisition. The company apologized and said the president has gotten out of the fundraising -- though it's unlikely his opinions have changed.

The vendors are one step removed since local officials still administer the election. But many people have noted that new technology increases the dependence on the consultants, who end up playing a bigger role in running the election itself. It's a concern.


Dayton, Ohio: I don't get the hubbub. Those old machines with the pull-bottons and the lever - where's the paper backup for that?

Plus isn't all this call for a paper backup treading dangerously on the concept of voting being anonymous?

Dan Keating: The voter would never be able to take the receipt with them, so no one else would see it.

As I said earlier, the secret ballot makes a perfect audit impossible.

Other machines have been proven susceptible to fraud, too. But with levers, you can only corrupt one machine at a time and it leaves marks behind -- like a hole in the machine. As you know with computer viruses, one piece of malevolent software can be spread across thousands of voting machines. That's the fear.


Robert MacMillan: Here's that May story Dan was talking about: Electronic Voting Still in Infancy, Critics Say

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