Voter Fraud, Networking and Operational Transparency
Critics point out some major concerns about DRE systems. The biggest one is the potential for voter fraud. Proponents of DRE systems argue that it would take talented individuals with very specialized knowledge to compromise a system. Due to this level of expertise, very few people would be capable of committing fraud. DRE systems are designed as self-contained units where the computer system is locked away from easy access. This means that the only time anyone has access to the computer element would be when the system is in a high security area such as a storage facility or within the production area of the vendor’s shop. Critics argue that the possibility of fraud on a monumental scale is still present under the right circumstances (for example, a programmer who has accepted bribes) and that fraud is potentially more difficult to detect when using electronic ballots versus paper ballots.
Election officials and DRE system vendors have to consider many factors, including voter anonymity. A voter’s ballot cannot be linked back to a specific voter without compromising confidentiality. Paper-based ballots or a DRE system that generates a paper trail create a physical record of each voter’s choices. Without this paper trail, the only record produced is electronic. Critics of paperless systems argue that a programmer could alter the electronic record of ballots cast and, because votes cannot be linked back to a particular voter for verification, detection of vote tampering could be impossible.
More than a dozen vendors produce the DRE systems now in use. Each vendor develops (or partners with another firm to develop) unique software to display, record and tabulate voter ballots. States are not bound to a single vendor and may purchase systems from multiple sources. Critics argue that connecting different systems together could compromise the security of the network of machines. Vendors do not design their systems to interact seamlessly with other vendors’ systems, so connecting two very different systems may make either or both behave in unintended ways.
Another major concern is transparency. Transparency refers to a full and accurate description of how the system works. One way of achieving transparency would be to share the source code used in displaying and capturing ballots with computer scientists. Source code is the programming language that is readable by people but not by computers -- computers read object code. By examining the source code, critics argue, computer scientists could determine that the program performs the intended task without error. Vendors, however, consider their source code to be proprietary knowledge. They are unwilling to share this information for fear competitors could use it.
Proponents of DRE systems are quick to point out that by releasing source code, vendors could expose vulnerabilities of their systems that others might exploit, making such systems less safe rather than more. Critics argue that without careful examination of the code, voters cannot be certain that the system is doing what it is supposed to do in the first place. Fraud, they say, could originate with the vendors either intentionally or through a programming error, and votes could be misattributed without chance of detection.
Fraud is a major concern with e-voting. Click here to learn how fraud in e-voting is similar to fraud in online surveys.