Thursday, November 16
The 2006 midterm elections are concluding without a major hitch– while some House races still hang in the balance, the nation has managed to avoid the large-scale disputed outcomes of Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Yet this veneer of electoral transparency is actually more akin to an iron curtain of unaccountability. After all, why is it that only about 1 in every 4 voters were confident their votes would be accurately counted on Nov. 7?
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in Georgia. In 2002, Georgia became the first state to exclusively use touch-screen voting equipment, purchasing 19,000 machines for the cool price of $54 million. The midterm elections that year happened to coincide with a massive upset that unseated the longtime Senator Max Cleland and Governor Roy Barnes. They both received 6 percent fewer votes than what pre-election polls had predicted. Barnes, for instance, was slated to walk away with an 11-point lead. But after the electoral tables turned, Georgian voters’ ire arose from their inability to have a recount of the suspect elections. A recount is impossible without a paper trail.
A full recount should be available whenever races are so close and contentious. But without any verifiable paper trail, a recount simply consists of pushing a few buttons and having the electronic voting machines spit out the same numbers they did on Election Day. When it comes to elections, circuitry is anything but a tabula rasa.
This problem isn’t isolated to Georgia. About 80 percent of Americans had their votes counted by electronic machines during these last elections. Recounts aside, these machines create a litany of dilemmas in the electoral process. They frequently break down. Such machines are known to flip votes from one candidate to another and sometimes don’t record votes at all, as happened in Florida this year. The horrifying part is that there’s no way to sift through all the errors and uncover the voter’s original intent. When an electronic glitch happens, the voting record permanently changes.
But why can’t this problem be resolved? Simply put, the public can’t examine the very software they use to vote. In fact, such scrutiny is illegal. The voting software that runs on the electronic machines is considered “proprietary information” by the companies that produce it, therefore no one, not even election officials, can access it. Slot machines in Las Vegas are inspected to a greater degree than our voting machines are.