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Should Voting Be Electronic ? Essay, Research Paper

M. Todd Solomon

We are in the middle of a revolution and although there are no guns, bullets, or bloodshed, this revolution is still taking place. It is a technological revolution and every person on this planet is participating whether they know it or not.

Technology is changing incredibly fast. So fast, in fact, that we are scrambling to keep up with it. Companies develop new products daily to help ease our lives and to make our every wish and desire appear instantaneously. As a society, we love it. We crave it. We can t get enough of it.

Of course, the advent of the Internet has played a huge role in our hunger for technology. Over half the homes in the United States are now connected to the World Wide Web, a number which grows exponentially by the day. As a society we have begun to use the Internet for many of the activities that are so common in our lives. Activities such as, shopping, banking, paying bills, making travel arrangements, communicating, etc. And companies are more than willing to accommodate our willingness to do so. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of websites devoted solely to helping us with these tasks.

So why are we, as a society, being stubborn when it comes to making some processes electronic or digital? What I am referring to is the ongoing debate about digitizing the voting process.

In this paper I will argue that we need to establish a system which will make the voting process electronic. To clarify, when I say voting process, I am speaking of this country s system of gathering and tabulating votes. I will explore the current methods of the voting process as well as making a comparison between the current process and several electronic systems which are currently being developed. I will also look at some of the arguments from those who are opposed to making this process electronic. Finally, I will discuss the overall advantages of changing the voting process and how they will effect us as a society.

What has spurred this new and heated debate in political circles over the efficiency and accuracy of the voting process? Could it possibly have been the recent presidential elections? During the 2000 elections, our country, like it or not, was treated to a crash course in the voting process. As the polls drew to a close, it seemed as though George W. Bush would win Florida and the presidency. The final vote count in Florida was decided by only several hundred votes. Due to this incredibly close margin of victory the Democrats asked for a recount in Florida. What happened next put the magnifying glass directly on Florida as well as our country s current voting process. It was this that served as the catalyst for this current debate.

Currently, there are mainly four different types of machines or procedures for casting and counting votes being used today in the majority of the country. These systems include Mechanical Lever, Punch Card, Optical Scan, and Hand Counted. (www.usatoday.com)

Mechanical lever Machines have been in use in the United States since 1892. (www.research.att.com) A voter will pull a lever in correspondence to the candidate they wish to vote for. By the 1960 s these machines were used by about half the voters in the US. (www.research.att.com) In the last election 18.2 % of the population who voted used this method. (www.usatoday.com)

One of the main disadvantages of the lever machine is that there is no ability to audit them and to recount individual votes. If the counter malfunctions no record exists form which a proper tally can be determined. (www.research.att.com) Other problems have arisen involving these machines such as, mislabeled levers, and faulty testing processes. This machine is so out dated in fact, that they are no longer being made at all. This makes trying to assemble parts for malfunctioning machines impossible.

Punch Card voting system was brought about to replace the lever machines. It is by far the most widely used system in the US. About 32.4 % of the population used this system in the last election. (www.usatoday.com) These Machines use cards with holes printed where they can be punched. The names of the candidates are not printed on the cards themselves, but on a separate device which holds the card next to the names when it is inserted. Each hole lines up next to the name of a candidate. (www.research.att.com)

Punch Card systems are not without problems either. Besides simply understanding the ballot, which we have seen can be rather confusing, the system which counts the punched holes can be very inconsistent. Votomatic, as this system is called, suffers from the occurrence of hanging, swinging, pregnant, or dimpled Chad s. (www.research.att.com) These are all names given to a hole which has not been punched completely through. Rather the holes are only removed halfway, three quarters, ext. The machine which counts these votes may count them incorrectly or not at all.

A popular alternative to the punch card system are Optical Scan systems. This technologies is used by 27.2 % of the voters. ( www.usatoday.com) This system works similarly to those used in standardized tests. The voter fills in ovals next to the name of the candidate they wish to vote for. Then a machine counts the dots and tabulates the votes. (www.research.att.com)

Here, similarly to the Punch Card system, voters may improperly mark their ballots, causing the ballot tabulating computer to improperly mark their vote or not count the vote at all.

The most basic system for tabulating votes is the Hand-Counted Paper system.. This system simply uses a paper ballot with boxes for a x or a check next to each candidate. Then the ballots are put into a large box and later counted by hand by voting officials. (www.acm.org)

With the large number of races and other ballot questions on today s ballots, this system becomes very cumbersome. (www.research.att.com) Paper ballots also seem to be the most at risk to be tampered with, do to the amount of time officials spend counting and transporting them.

These are the four most current systems that our country uses to record and tabulate votes. As I have shown each one has at least one serious deficiency in its ability to store and count votes correctly and accurately.

I would now like to talk about some of the new innovations which are slowly being integrated into the voting process and why, as a country, it would be beneficial for us to switch to these new systems completely.

One of the latest tools to help simplify the voting process is the Direct Recording System or (DRE). The (DRE) is a machine that many believe makes it impossible for voters to mark their ballot incorrectly. The (DRE) also makes accurate recounting simple and eliminates any need to argue about what constitutes a proper vote.

The (DRE) is a computerized voting terminal, which allows voters to register their votes using a touch screen, similar to that of an ATM. (www.research.att.com) The screen uses a variety of buttons and lights, which helps ensure the voter correctly cast their vote for whom it was intended. In the 9% of counties which used these machines in the last election the feedback from voters was positive. Voters typically found the machines easy to use, and liked the fact that the machine warned them if they forgot to vote for a particular office or tried to vote too many times. (www.research.att.com)

Opponents of the (DRE) system argue that the machines are an easy target for programming mistakes and failures, but the proponents of the system remain unshaken. DRE proponents argue that a properly designed and tested (DRE) machine should not suffer from any programming errors, accidental or malicious. Some of the lessor complaints about the machines tend to deal with their cost, about $ 5,000 per machine. Though this is to be expected of new and more capable technology. Another complaint is the time it takes a voter to use a machine. During the voting process one voter gets exclusive access to each machine which slows the process down a bit. Although, (DRE) report they generally service about thirty voters an hour, roughly the same amount of voters which a Mechanical Lever machine can handle. (www.research.att.com)

Another method of voting, which may become popular in the not so distant future is voting via the Internet. Only a very small number of elections have been handles this way so far, including the 2000 Reform Party presidential primary, in which internet voting was offered to members who could not attend the party s convention. Also the 2000 Arizona Democratic Party offered Internet voting as an option in their Presidential primary. And even in November s Presidential election, Internet voting was offered to several hundred military persons who were stationed over seas. (www.research.att.com)

Most of the Internet voting trails went reasonably well. (www.research.att.com) Although, no one is sure if programmers will be ready to handle Internet voting on a large scale in the next presidential elections. The major concern currently with Internet voting is one of security. Opponents fear hackers targeting elections with viruses and other programs which could reek havoc on the system.

Though, the reality of Internet voting is ready to explode. With technology ever growing in leaps and bounds, it would be a safe assumption that Internet voting is not far off. Simply because once it is a reality, many people will have access to it. Proponents believe that if Internet voting was introduced into a wide scale national election along with current methods, voting percentage would show a dramatic upward trend. (www.research.att.com) Internet voting is also likely to be very cost efficient once a system has been set into place. While the logistics of Internet voting still need several years of fine-tuning, the possibility of seeing a national election conducted via the Internet in several years is very plausible.

It seems, as we continue to progress further and further in our technological capabilities, it is an inevitability that electronic or digital systems will eventually replace everything which is not. We, as a society need to embrace this change. It is a change for the better. As for the voting process, it needs to sustain a change as well. We have the technology and resources to make the process into something no less then accurate and efficient. Why we are waiting to take this process into the 21st century remains a mystery, but we do know that a change inevitable. For the time being it seems as though it is the people who do not control the voting process who are most informed about it. Until the bureaucrats become informed and decide they are willing to take steps to improve the system, one of our country s most important processes will remain far from adequate.

“Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.”

-Marshall McLuhan

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