To paraphrase 15th Century Dutch Philosopher Erasmus’ well-known characterization of women -- "technology, can't live with it, can't live without it." Ever since the debacle that was the vote counting in Florida a dozen years ago, virtually every jurisdiction in the country has moved away from some form of manual voting machine to embrace the technology of electronic voting ("e-voting" for short).
Yet, as states and local elections offices have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to institute e-voting, little attention has been paid the potential dangers inherent in this form of vote counting. Indeed, even as many Republican voters and legislators decry the possibility of voting abuse posed by suspected voter fraud and have ousted for voter ID mandates, the specter of lost votes posed by e-voting continues to go largely unnoticed or deliberately ignored.
However, as noted in a recent editorial in USA Today by Philip Meyer, professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, electronic voting machines have the very real “potential to steal your vote.” The problem identified by Meyer is magnified this election cycle, given the high likelihood of another exceptionally tight presidential race.
As reflected in many recent polls, votes in a handful of key states, including Ohio, Florida and Virginia are poised to decide the contest between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. Yet, these states and others remain ill-prepared to deal with potential problems because they lack sufficient auditing procedures to ensure the integrity of their e-voting systems.
Many pundits and voting officials tend to dismiss such concerns, but the fact remains there have been demonstrated errors in the recent past. Perhaps the most well-known example, explains Philip Meyer, occurred in Volusia County, Florida when a “corrupted memory card subtracted 16,000 votes from Al Gore’s count in 2000.”
While procedures have improved in the last 12 years and many states have taken some steps to ensure the integrity of their elections, there remain instances where votes are lost and cannot be recovered, or where machines simply fail. Meyer notes more recent examples, such as electronic voting machines failing in 80% of precincts in a South Carolina county during the 2008 GOP presidential primary, and a software glitch in a Florida county giving votes in the wrong race in a municipal election. Three years ago in a local election in South Dakota, a software malfunction nearly doubled the number of votes actually cast, according to a USA Today study.
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