Distinguished Colloquium: Compterized Voting Machines: Who is Counting Your Vote?

October 24, 2007
2:50 pm - 4:00 pm
Halligan 111


As a result of Florida 2000, some people concluded that paper ballots simply couldn't be counted, even though businesses, banks, racetracks, lottery systems, and other entities in our society count and deal with paper all the time. Instead, paperless computerized voting systems (Direct Recording Electronic or DREs) were touted as the solution to "the Florida problem.”

Election officials were told that DREs in the long run would be cheaper than alternative voting systems, a claim that ignored the costs of testing and secure storage, as well as very expensive annual maintenance contracts. They were told that DREs had been extensively tested and that the certification process guaranteed that the machines were reliable and secure. They were also told that DREs would allow people with disabilities to vote independently. In some cases officials were threatened with lawsuits or actually sued by certain disability rights groups if they expressed hesitation at purchasing DREs.

However, recent results from California’s “Top-to-Bottom Review” have revealed that the DREs that were tested – all of which had been federally qualified and state certified – are poorly designed, badly programmed, insecure, unreliable, and at times impossible for people with disabilities to use. As a result the California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified all of the tested systems. While she recertified them, her conditional recertification orders, which contain long lists of detected problems, have still longer lists of conditions, some quite arduous, that must be met if the machines are to be used in the upcoming primary election.

We will examine some of the technical issues relating to DREs and Internet voting, discuss the advantages of optical scan + ballot marking systems, review some horror stories, and discuss ongoing legislative efforts aimed at making voting systems more secure and mandating random manual audits for all federal elections.