Reporter’s Notebook: The only thing older than ballot stuffing is democracy itself.
That’s why the current brouhaha over electronic voting machines has a lot of observers scratching their heads.
Moreover, direct recording electronic voting machines (DREs) offer voters a lot of benefits.
For one thing, they make it possible for people with disabilities to vote independently and privately for the first time in history.
Experts also say that when best practices are observed, DREs can also result in more accurate elections.
But when best practices aren’t observed, chaos ensues.
According to Ted Selker, co-director of the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project, a quarter of poll workers fail to show up every Election Day.
It’s no wonder that the ones who do show up are overwhelmed and unlikely to notice if someone were to mess with the machines.
What kind of messing are we talking about?
Well, one type of machine features a yellow button (the vendor says it’s small, others qualify it as big) on the back of each unit that lets someone vote as often as they like.
Other machine have wireless components that could be used to spread vote-altering malware on a massive scale.
Votes on other machines can be manipulated because it’s easy to access the smart card counting the votes.
But if this is such common knowledge, why is it being allowed to happen? Doesn’t anybody care?
Deforest Soaries, the first chairman of the Elections Assistance Commission, told me that most people in power aren’t particularly bothered by this issue.
After all, it worked for them.
“The idea that in a Presidential race a couple of million votes might be lost is not offensive to many people — it’s just not,” he told internetnews.com.
Congress wanted to give the appearance of reform in the wake of the botched 2000 Presidential election in Florida, but never funded research to ensure that might have produced better standards.
“You’ve got a Congress that isn’t convinced that the EAC needs to exist or that its mission is important,” he said.
Soaries also blasted the states’ rights model that allows local jurisdictions to determine their own standards for voting machines.
“We are still functioning as a country on a model that was created in the 18th century,” Soaries said.
“In the 18th century, blacks could not vote, women could not vote, poor people who didn’t own property could not vote; in the 18th century, you couldn’t wake up in the morning and vote in Boston and fly to New York and vote in the afternoon and fly to Florida and vote in the evening.
“None of that was true in the 18th century, so to hold on passionately to this 18th century states rights model, when today we’ve got mobility, we’ve got technology, we’ve got diversity that we didn’t have in the 18th century, is absolutely insanity.”
Fortunately, however, there is an increasing outcry over the potential for massive fraud — and better yet, this outcry is coming from both sides of the political aisle.
In Maryland, for instance, Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich is leading the charge for reform, while in California, Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Barbara Bowen has made election reform the cornerstone of her campaign.
This fall, the powerful Republican head of the House Committee on Administration held hearings on the need for a verifiable paper trail.
Soaries noted that reform, if it comes, will be driven by selfish political considerations, not altruism.
“There has been no great moral leadership coming from politicians on issues relating to voting,” Soaries said.
“But when Democrats thought 18-year olds would vote Democrat, they lowered the voting age. When Republicans thought blacks would vote Republican, they advocated for expanding the franchise to blacks,” he said.