Kim Alexander: 'Electronic rigging?'
Date: Thursday, June 12 @ 09:59:38 EDT
By Kim Alexander, TomPaine.com
As election officials scramble to replace old, Florida-style voting systems with new, modern ones, many people are beginning to question the wisdom of entrusting our precious ballots to an entirely computerized process. These concerns are well-founded.
A petition started by Martin Luther King III and author Greg Palast is the latest example of the growing movement for secure, computerized voting systems. Their petition demands a halt to further computerization of balloting until such methods are no longer susceptible to political manipulation, fraud and racial bias. In one week it's gathered over 26,000 signatures.
Meanwhile in Washington, Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has introduced H.R. 2239, which would require computerized voting systems to produce a voter-verified paper trail and would also require surprise manual counts of those paper back-ups.
Computerized voting is expected to increase dramatically due to new federal funding to replace punch card and lever machines, as well as a mandate that all polling places provide at least one voting machine that allows blind and disabled voters to cast a secret ballot without assistance. Computerized machines are the only ones on the market today that can do that.
But voters who cast ballots on touchscreens have no way of knowing whether the machine captured their votes as the voter intended. Software can have bugs. Software can contain malicious code. Software can be incorrectly programmed. Systems crash. It's these kinds of risks that led hundreds of respected computer scientists and technologists to sign Stanford computer science professor David Dill's Resolutionon on Electronic Voting, which insists there be an audit trail to back up digital ballots.
Already there are signs that some voters lack confidence in computerized voting systems. A poll taken of Georgia's voters after that state deployed paperless touchscreens statewide in November 2002 found a significant racial disparity in voter confidence. While 79 percent of Georgia's white voters said they were very confident their votes would be accurately counted, only 40 percent of black voters expressed the same level of confidence.
Some who think we don't need a paper trail like to portray those of us who insist we do as paranoid conspiracy theorists. But any reasonable person who takes a moment to think about it quickly understands why it's not a good idea to trust 100 percent computerized, paperless voting systems run on secret software. A voter-verified, paper audit trail is the best way to mitigate the real and perceived security risks inherent in any computerized voting system.
Fortunately, vendors are responding. In the past six months all three of the nation's top computerized voting vendors -- Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia -- have begun developing paper audit trail prototypes.
I think we can get computerized voting right and I believe the voter-verified paper trail is inevitable; it's just a matter of how much money we waste and how many voters we lose along the way. We can minimize those losses if conscientious voters everywhere join the call for a voter-verified paper trail. Democracy deserves no less.
(To learn more, visit The California Voter Foundation Web site)
Kim Alexander is president and founder of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advancing new technologies to improve democracy.
Reprinted from TomPaine.com: http://www.tompaine.com/
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