THE MAGAZINE

Machine Politics

By Laura Spadanuta

California, Colorado, and counties in Ohio are experimenting with these types of audits, according to Stark. The audits must be conducted by hand counts of paper ballots. Not all states have a paper record of each vote.

Ballot security. Any system that relies on paper ballots must, of course, take care to secure both blank ballots and those used to cast votes. Otherwise, ballots could be stolen or tampered with. In the 2008 Presidential primaries, New Hampshire was criticized for how ballots were stored, for example, Scanlan says. In response, the state made some changes. “We brought a lot of uniformity to that part of the election process and trained the local election officials on how to properly store ballots when the election’s over so that people can’t question the validity of the actual ballots you’re counting in the recount,” he explains.

Legislation

There are still problems that some advocates say can only be solved with additional federal legislation. Verified Voting supports the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which would set national voting standards and establish uniform requirements such as post-election audits. Smith says that having a consistent standard of equity and verifiability among states’ voting systems would create a confidence in the systems that would encourage increased voting. The bill was still in committee at press time, however, and is unlikely to pass.

 
Internet Voting

People do their banking online. They communicate online. They do their shopping online. So it’s only natural that citizens would expect that they should also be able to vote online. Internet voting has been touted as a convenient option especially for absentee voters, such as citizens who are overseas during an election and deployed military personnel. But the security issue remains.

In a highly publicized Internet voting failure, Washington, D.C., conducted a pilot project in 2010 of an Internet voting Web application. They invited the public to test the system. Within 36 hours, a team from the University of Michigan had hacked the system and programmed it to play the University of Michigan fight song as users cast votes. And though Professor J. Alex Halderman, who worked on the hack, blogged that there was a simple fix for the specific vulnerability, he added that the system was brittle, and it would be very difficult to secure.

Smith said that such systems are vulnerable, and they’re not being properly tested. Despite the failed test in Washington, others are proceeding to explore this option. “Some whole states, some counties [are] experimenting with these,” says Smith, who points out that the Department of Defense is still funding grants for online balloting experiments.

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