E-voting Upgrades America’s Ballot Box

Published January 1, 2007

On Election Day 2006, more than 65 million Americans voted using direct recording electronic (DRE) machines. Despite the hysteria over ballot booth meltdowns, voters can continue to be confident using e-voting systems, as they make voting simpler, safer, and more accessible than traditional paper ballots.

Historically, ballots were manhandled, facilitating low-level fraud as pre-scored cards and connect-the-line sheets were easily corrupted by poll workers with a simple punch or mark of a pen. But with DRE features like remote vote storage, proprietary software, a visual verification screen, and special hardware for the elderly and disabled, most election problems can be innovated out of existence.

The e-voting experience has been a resounding success that has generated relatively few complaints from the electorate. To be sure, there were some legitimate problems with DRE machines on November 7, but many have been found to be man-made, such as innocent user error, inept poll workers, or ineffective planning by local election authorities. Unfortunately, these human-based fumbles have opened the doors for open-source zealots, wide-eyed activists, and crafty politicians who want to scrap DREs for the 2008 elections.

Stoking Unease

Claiming that e-voting is inherently unsafe and stoking unease with far-fetched schemes of digital deceit, these opponents want superfluous use of “voter-verified paper trails” and imposition of open-source software. Others simply don’t trust the private sector and have demanded that the federal government co-opt the e-voting industry and develop a single system for the American public. The merits of these proposals are dubious and cloud the safety and integrity of e-voting systems today.

Paper trails are meaningless if manual counts and voter verification are still prone to fraud and human error. “Voter-verified” printers discriminate against the disabled and have already proven susceptible to the same hardware malfunctions as home and office models. A government e-voting machine would satisfy no one and would be subject to the bureaucratic inefficiency and partisan politics of Washington. And according to a California report this year, a broad open-source mandate on e-voting machines would be costly, difficult to implement, and could backfire by creating new opportunities for hacking.

The advocacy of digital red tape and risky industry requirements jeopardizes the value of these innovative machines. Such mandates also overwhelm local election officials already stymied by limited resources and high expectations.

Voters would be wise to scrutinize proposals that would risk turning national elections into another 2000 Florida fiasco. As activists now push for new e-voting hazards, Congress should instead encourage efforts by county election officials to adopt more localized and effective alternatives. These include professionalizing poll workers, creating citizen voting councils, and a competitive DRE vendor bidding process. To ensure e-ballot integrity, county election officials should negotiate the best vendor contract for local voters and institute stricter protocols for both machines and poll workers.

Feeding the country’s voting system to ideological lions is irresponsible and self-serving. If public leaders are serious about strengthening voter confidence, they should embrace new technological solutions, not the failed policies of the past.

Vince Vasquez ([email protected]) is a policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and co-author of Upgrading America’s Ballot Box: The Rise of E-Voting.

For more information …

“Upgrading America’s Ballot Box: The Rise of E-Voting” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #20302.