Exclusive: E-voting puts vote accuracy at risk in four key states
In four battleground states – Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado – glitches in electronic-voting machines could produce erroneous tallies that would be difficult to detect and potentially impossible to correct, a Monitor analysis finds.
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"These DREs have been one of the more reliable pieces of equipment we've had," says Donald Palmer, secretary of Virginia's Board of Elections, the state's most senior election official. "We haven't had any major problems with them."
In fact, Colorado’s Jefferson County recently had to conduct a recount in a congressional race, in which votes cast on paperless DREs were included. Significantly, both candidates accepted the result although there was no paper to confirm that the machines had recorded the votes correctly.
"We think we have the right processes in place to make sure everyone is able to vote and that their votes count," says Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State's office.
Still, Princeton’s Professor Felten has put all four states on his top 10 states “at risk” of an e-voting meltdown. Among the factors going into the the list is the effectiveness of a state’s vote-audit laws.
California, for example, is lauded because its post-election audits draw statistical comparison between paper totals and voting machine tallies to ensure the machines are accurate. In contrast, Virginia has no post-election audit and limited provisions for a recount in state law in case machine vote-count problems are detected. Similarly, Florida state laws are such that a recount may not be permitted even if a machine is known to have malfunctioned.
"Florida's post-election audit law is absolutely atrocious and does not afford the voters any certainty that their votes have been accurately counted," says Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Florida’s Leon County. "Because our laws only allow erroneous totals to be corrected on the basis of fraud, a machine could break down, but if there's no fraud, our laws would still not allow us to correct those erroneous totals."
The small number of voters who will use paperless DREs in the state limit the chances of an e-voting meltdown there, he acknowledges. But it is a concern. He notes that the blatant mistake made by e-voting machines in Palm Beach might have never been corrected had that been a statewide election, since there was no obvious fraud. "State law doesn't require it," he says.
"I'm hopeful," he adds, "that we can get through to 2014 without an election disaster like 2000 and finally get rid of all these [paperless] machines once and for all."
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