NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Another Voting Fiasco Likely in 2004

March 1, 2004

Despite the debate over hanging chads in the 2000 election, it doesn't appear that the problem of inaccurate voting counts will be resolved for 2004. In an effort to reduce the likelihood of having to sort and count "overvotes" and "undervotes," many counties have ordered electronic touch-screen voting machines.

However, electronic machines come with their own problems, according to officials:

  • A recent local election for Broward and Palm Beach county resulted in a candidate winning by a margin of only 12 votes; however, the recount required under Florida law was impossible due to electronic voting machines that produced no paper trail.
  • Some electronic voting machines have produced dubious results -- such was the case in Indiana, where voting machines counted 144,000 votes cast by 5,352 voters.
  • In Virginia, electronic voting machines were subtracting votes from a candidate, instead of adding votes.

The federal government passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, which, while not mandating how states should vote, offered federal funds to allow states to purchase HAVA-compliant voting machinery. However, the committee to decide on HAVA standards for machinery has not yet been appointed, yet money is being handed out to states, with some using it to purchase 1990-standard voting equipment, now considered outdated.

Rebecca Mercuri of Harvard University's JFK School of Government believes that the answer is to require that all electronic voting machines produce a paper copy of the vote in a way that voters cannot accidentally walk off with it. In fact, California recently passed a law requiring all counties to have a paper copy system in place by 2006.

During this year's election 20 percent of votes will be cast electronically, and officials worry that a Florida fiasco will be even more likely.

Source: "Good Intentions, Bad Technology," Economist, January 24-30, 2004.


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