Electronic voting

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What is electronic voting?

Most broadly, electronic voting or e-voting refers to both the electronic means of casting a vote and the electronic means of tabulating votes. In this broad sense, most voting methods currently in use in the United States employ electronics. This can include punch card systems, optical scan voting systems, direct-recording electronic (DRE) and Internet voting.

In common usage now, however, "electronic voting" refers to DRE voting systems most often utilizing touch-screens as well as electronic panels with push buttons or pointing devices to record votes. This is an importnat distinction because other systems which employ electronics, nevertheless, have a physical ballot that at least could be counted manually. DREs do not.

A DRE system, simply stated, is a type of computer. Voters view ballots on a screen and make choices using an input device such as a bank of buttons or a touchscreen. Some DRE systems employ an additional tool such as a card swipe or cartridge system used to activate the system before a ballot can be cast. Votes are stored on a memory card, internal hard drive, flash memory, compact disc or other memory device. Most commonly election officials transport these memory devices to a centralized location for tabulation, just as they would with paper-based ballots. Some machines have the capability to broadcast results over a modem-to-modem line.[1]

Introduction of electronic voting into US elections

The first electronic voting systems were introduced in the United States during the mid 19th century. The first use proposal was an 1850 patent for legislative roll call votes,[2] later refined by others including Thomas A. Edison.[3] Electronic voting systems for electorates have been in use since the 1960s[4] when Punch card voting systems debuted.

The first traditional DRE used in public elections was the "Video Voter" introduced in 1975 Illinois.[5] By 1996 7.7% of the registered voters in the United States used some type of direct recording electronic voting system.[4]

In 2002, in the United States, the Help America Vote Act mandated that one handicapped accessible voting system be provided per polling place, which most jurisdictions have chosen to satisfy with the use of DRE voting machines, some switching entirely over to DRE. In 2004, 28.9% of the registered voters in the United States used some type of direct recording electronic voting system, up from 7.7% in 1996.[6]

Concerns about electronic voting

Perhaps no development is more worrisome to those who are concerned with election integrity than electronic voting. Two major problems seem inherent:

1. Lack of a tangible record. A paper ballot, for example, is a tangible physical object which can be indelibly marked. Computer memory, however, can be easily altered leaving no trace of its original marking. [7]

2. The possibility of fraud on a monumental scale. A single programmer can insert self-erasing code that can alter millions of ballots and the outcome of elections. [8]

In addition, a host of other problems remain entrenched in the system. These include:[9]

  • Lack of transparency: Current electronic voting systems do not have publicly reviewable inner workings (source code). By examining the source code, critics argue, computer scientists could determine that the program performs the intended task without error. Vendors, however, claim their source code to be proprietary knowledge and a trade secret.
  • Insufficient standards, testing and certification: voting system are typically certified to federal and or state standards that are several years old and older standards often will have gaping flaws. Implementing new standards has been a slow, cumbersome and costly process. Certification is done by for-profit laboratories accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but chosen and paid by the manufacturers.
  • Insufficient oversight: Various electronic voting companies were found to have employees who have previously been convicted of serious crimes, including felonies. A Diebold e-voting programming director was found to have criminal records for embezzlement, a crime very similar technically to election fraud. [10]

According to Election Data Services, Inc. (EDS), a Manassas, Virginia-based political consulting firm, the use of electronic voting machines is starting to decrease. EDS reported in Scientific American that in the 2008 general election, nearly 10 million fewer voters will use e-voting machines compared to the number used in the 2006 election.[11]

Vulnerability comparisons with other voting systems

Election fraud may occur and go undetected in systems with indelible (e.g., paper) ballots, but it is, in principle, detectable, and flagrantly egregious behavior can usually be limited through the courts and public pressure. If legal procedures are pursued or if an investigative team is dogged, fraud can be exposed and justice served. For example, the Miami Herald won a Pulitzer prize for reporting on vote buying and ballot tampering by the campaign of Xavier Suarez, who had been elected mayor of Miami the previous November. As a result, Suarez was forced to step down after 111 days in office. [12] With electronic voting systems, however, fraud may be undetectable, and those who have been declared the losers are left with no recourse to verify results. [13]

Demonstrations of electronic voting vulnerability

Multiple academics have demonstrated various serious vulnerabilities in all form of electronic voting including DREs and Optical Scan systems.[14] See also: Hursti voting machine hacks

Electronic voting: 2008 and beyond

Electronic voting internationally

Polling place electronic voting or Internet voting examples have spread widely accross the globe, although some countries, notably Ireland and the Netherlands have abandoned electronic voting entirely.

Ireland bought voting computers from the Dutch company Nedap for about 50 million euro. The machines were used on a 'pilot' basis in some constituencies in two elections in 2002. Due to campaigning by ICTE, Joe McCarthy, and the work of the Commission on Electronic Voting, the machines have not been used since, and their future is uncertain. [15]

Irish statistician David Edelman wrote that "scientists and statisticians presented evidence of both the possibility and actuality of fraud using such mahcines, the scale of public condemnation rose to such a level that the machines (50M Euro worth) were immediately banned in the entire Republic, and put into indefinite storage. Elections are still tallied manually there." [16]

Main article: Electronic voting internationally

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Jonathan Strickland and Kevin Bonsor, How E-voting Works, How Stuff Works .
  2. Improvement in the application of electro-chemical printing in colors for taking ayes and noes, U.S. Patent 7,521
  3. Improvement In Electrographic Vote-Recorder U.S. Patent 90,646
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bellis, Mary. The History of Voting Machines. About.com.
  5. A Brief Illustrated History of Voting, Douglas W. Jones The University of Iowa
  6. U.S. Federal Election Commission: Direct Recording Electronic - information page
  7. George V. Hulme with Elena Malykhina, Information Week E-Voting Systems Face Security Questions: Critics say electronic systems are insecure, unreliable, and subject to tampering, February 9, 2004.
  8. David Dill It's Time to Outlaw Paperless Electronic Voting in the U.S., Huffington Post, April 29, 2007
  9. Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count(New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006) Chapter 3. Electronic Voting: An Invitation for Fraud.
  10. Bev Harris, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century (Renton, WA: Talion Publishing, 2003)
  11. Larry Greenemeier, Scientific American Election 2008: E-voting concerns persist 60-Second Science Blog. November 3, 2008
  12. Evan Shapiro, Feed Daily Column, Feed Magazine, Nov. 8, 2000.
  13. David Dill It's Time to Outlaw Paperless Electronic Voting in the U.S., Huffington Post, April 29, 2007
  14. Princeton Report on Diebold vulnerability
  15. Cullen rules out use of e-voting in June
  16. David Edelman, Electronic Voting in the Republic of Ireland, May 31, 2007.

External resources




  • Hacking Democracy (HBO, 2006)

External articles