The Psychology of Electronic Voting

The public must trust that elections are fairly conducted in order for a democratic government to be considered legitimate. If the public perceives elections to be unfair, the foundation of the government is weakened. Whether electronic voting systems are fair may not even matter; it is the public perception that is crucial. At the moment, the latest electronic voting systems in use (particularly DRE systems, which according to Election Data Services, serves as the voting equipment available for 38 percent of the nation’s registered voters) are receiving a great deal of scrutiny and criticism. Citizens, private companies and elected officials are spending more time carefully examining these systems and the implications of their use.

Though debate on the issue of e-voting has been and will continue to be passionate, most critics recognize that a move towards electronic voting systems is an inevitable step in the evolution of our voting process. Because our democracy depends upon the public believing in fair elections, these systems must be shown to be as secure and reliable as other voting methods.

That is probably much easier said than done. Reports of lost data, corrupted files, bribed officials, vendor partisanship, unsecured information and other scandals have been in the news several times since 2000. While these reports likely create an unrealistic expectation of unreliability, they are legitimate causes for concern. It will be the responsibility of the states and vendors to determine the best means of creating public trust.

Some of these methods will likely include more stringent tests, careful discussions about the balance of proprietary information against the need for source code validation, and discussions on the balance between voter anonymity and the need for a reliable audit system. While these are big issues, elections are by their very nature important to our government and way of life. Considering that, is any issue too large to address?

For lots more information on e-voting and related topics, check out the links on the next page.