You can’t trust the voting machines

Pub date July 31, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION California’s secretary of state, Debra Bowen, has released a landmark report showing what all honest brokers admitted long ago: electronic voting systems are completely vulnerable to hackers. "The independent teams of analysts [hired by the state] were able to bypass both physical and software security measures in every system tested," her report states.

A report on accessibility for disabled voters found that none of the direct recording electronic (usually touch screen) voting systems met federal disability standards.

And yet US House Democrats and People for the America Way are busy hammering out a deal in Congress to institutionalize in federal law the continued use of such disastrous voting systems.

Out of touch much? Which part of a transparent, counted, paper ballot (not a "trail" or a "record") for every vote cast in America do these guys not understand?

Late Friday, as Bowen’s report was being released, US House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) finally came to terms, reportedly, on a deal for a revision of Holt’s House Resolution 811, dubbed the Federal Election Reform Bill, which allows for the use of DREs — as preferred, almost exclusively, by People for the American Way, elections officials, and voting-machine companies. Saturday’s New York Times confirmed that it was "Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, [who] helped broker the deal" between Holt and the House leadership.

And though Christopher Drew’s reporting at the New York Times is getting slightly better with each new story, it would be nice if the "paper of record" could learn enough about our voting systems to accurately report and help Americans understand what’s really at stake here and how the technology actually works.

Drew reported — misleadingly — that "the House bill would require every state to use paper records that would let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would be available for recounts."

That’s just plain wrong. The fact is that adding "cash-register-style printers to … touch-screen machines," as Drew describes it, does not allow a voter to verify that his or her "ballots had been correctly cast." It allows voters only to verify that the paper record of their invisibly cast electronic ballot accurately matches their intentions, if they bother to check it (studies show most don’t) and if they’re able to notice errors on the printout (studies also show that most do not). The fact is, there is no way to verify that a person’s vote is correctly cast on a DRE touch-screen voting machine. Period.

Unless, of course, it’s me who is out of touch in presuming that if a ballot is cast, it means it will actually be counted by someone or something. Paper trails added to DRE systems are not counted; instead, only the internal, invisible, unverifiable ballots are. A "cash-register-style" printout prior to the ballot being cast and counted internally does nothing to change that. *

Brad Friedman

Brad Friedman writes on elections and political integrity for the Brad Blog at A version of this piece first appeared as a post there.