How E-voting Works

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Impartiality, Auditing Results and Cost

Diebold AccuVote-TSx voting machine with printer attachment
Diebold AccuVote-TSx voting machine with printer attachment
Photo used under the GNU Free Documentation License

Transparency and fraud are both factors in another concern critics have of DRE systems: impartiality. DRE systems are produced by private companies, and these companies have not always been seen as politically neutral. Critics question if it is wise to entrust public elections to private companies that have a vested interest in a particular party’s victory in the election.

Auditing is another important consideration in the use of DRE systems. HAVA requires that all voting systems are auditable, both for recounts and to confirm that the system is working properly. This is an ongoing struggle for computer scientists and vendors. It is extremely difficult to create an auditing process that still preserves the anonymity of voters. Some experts argue for a Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPT), where both the machine’s memory device and a physical paper trail record each ballot. Each voter could then compare the paper trail to the results screen on the DRE monitor to verify his vote was counted properly. Currently, 27 states have legislation or regulations requiring a paper trail. Out of the rest, Arkansas has mixed legislations that requires some jurisdictions to have paper trails but does not require the same of other jurisdictions. Twelve states have proposed legislation that has not yet been enacted, and 10 states have no proposed legislation on the subject.

Some critics of DRE systems argue that without a paper trail, a DRE system is unaccountable. They say that if an audit cannot determine that the ballots recorded are the ballots voters actually cast, then the results of such an election cannot be verified. Others argue that paper trails alone are of no use. A DRE System could display and print a voter’s choices with no apparent errors and still electronically record the vote improperly on its memory device. Their solutions often focus on extended testing and certification of voting systems to determine in careful simulations whether or not the voting system is accurately capturing votes.

Finally, DRE systems cost more than other systems currently in use. What’s more, the ongoing costs of maintaining DRE systems are unknown at this point. As with computer systems, adjustments will need to be made to any DRE to fix bugs or make upgrades. While states received money due to HAVA in 2002, that was a one-time grant. Maintenance costs are left to the states. If vendors go out of business or consolidate, that may affect the costs of maintaining hardware and software.

In the next section, we'll look at Internet-based systems.