Electronic voting: the silent catastrophe

11/14/2006 3:55:45 PM, by Jon Stokes
Though you wouldn’t know it from watching the election night and post-election coverage on the Cable news shows, preliminary reports from local papers and from a host of electronic voting activist groups and researchers indicate that there were widespread and significant problems with the new electronic voting machines used in the November 7th mid-terms. The many groups who’re working on collecting and summarizing the information gleaned from nationwide hotlines and poll watching efforts have a ton of data to sort through, but a few of the broader outlines are clear already. In a nutshell, the kinds of problems highlighted by the two post-mortems done on Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s May 2nd primaries proved exemplary-in terms of the types of problems and their relative frequencies-of what the nation as a whole faced on November 7th.

Many activist groups kept logs, like this one, of problems that cropped up on election day. Among the most publicized collections of problems is the database run by Common Cause. Common Cause logged 16,000 calls on the 1-866-MYVOTE1 hotline. The calls registered all sorts of problems, with registration problems being the most common. The biggest change from their 2004 hotline was the percentage of calls reporting mechanical failures, up from 3 percent to almost 17 percent. Poll access was also a big problem, and one that was greatly exacerbated by the mechanical failures. There were reports of people waiting in line for three and four hours, due to issues like poor machine allocation and voting machines that didn’t work.

Most of the House and Senate races on Nov. 7th were very, very close, with many being decided by a few thousand (or in some cases, a few hundred) votes. With margins of victory so narrow, the kinds of problems I’ll describe below are simply unacceptable, and in some instances these problems could’ve decided the race. (Whether they actually did decide a race or not is impossible to determine, which is the problem.)

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