Electronic Voting – Not Ready for Primetime

In December 2000, five Supreme Court justices concluded that a recount in the state of Florida's presidential election was unwarranted. This, despite the desire of the Florida Supreme Court to order a statewide recount in an election that was decided by only 537 votes. In the face of well-documented voting irregularities throughout the state, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision created enormous cynicism about whether the votes of every American would actually be counted. Although we cannot change what happened in Florida, we have a responsibility to our democracy to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

Some politicians believe a solution to this problem can be found in electronic voting. Recently, the federal government passed legislation encouraging the use of "touch screen" voting machines even though they fail to provide a verifiable record that can be used in a recount. Furthermore, this equipment cannot even verify as to whether a voter did indeed cast a ballot for their intended candidate. Unfortunately, this November, as many as 28% of Americans – 50 million people – will cast ballots using machines that could produce such unreliable and unverifiable results.

Only since 2000 have touch screen voting machines become widely used and yet they have already caused widespread controversy due to their unreliability. For instance, in Wake County, N.C. in 2002, 436 votes were lost as a result of bad software. Hinds County, Miss. had to re-run an election because the machines had so many problems that the will of the voters could not be determined. According to local election officials in Fairfax County, Va., a recent election resulted in one in 100 votes being lost. Many states, such as New Hampshire and most recently Maine, have banned paperless touch screen voting and many more are considering doing so.

Without any accountability or transparency, even if these machines work, we cannot check whether they are in fact working reliably. The American public should not tolerate the use of paperless e-voting machines until at least the 2006 election, allowing time to prevent ongoing errors and failures with the technology. One way or another, every voter should be able to check that an accurate paper record has been made of their vote before it is recorded.

Both Democrats and Republicans have a serious interest in fixing this potentially enormous blow to democracy. A bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), is one of several paper trail bills in the House and Senate and it should be passed as soon as possible. A grassroots movement for verified voting, led by organizations like VerifiedVoting.org, is gaining momentum nationwide.

There is nothing partisan about the survival of our democracy or its legitimacy. We cannot and must not put the success of one party or another above the good of our entire country and all our people. To the governments of the fifty states, Republican or Democrat, I ask you to put paperless e-voting machines on the shelf until 2006 or until they are reliable and will allow recounts. In a democracy you always count the votes no matter who wins. To abandon that principle is to abandon America.

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