Computer voting was supposed to revolutionize elections. But has it just updated old problems?
Nov-Dec 2003, volume 28 number 6
THE LESSONS OF FLORIDA'S 2000 ELECTION DEBACLE were painfully clear: Butterfly ballots and punch cards are no way to run an election. Vowing "never again," Congress pledged nearly $4 billion to fund voting modernization, and tech firms rushed computerized voting terminals to market, promising modern convenience and digital democracy.
But a closer look at electronic voting finds the new machines far from fail-safe. Tech expedrts say voting-terminal technology lags years behind the state of the art in both encryption and design. Not only are the machines susceptible to the kinds of voting mishaps - undervotes, misvotes - that produced Bush v. Gore, but they also may be vulnerable to hackers bent on stealing an election.
3. CODE RED
Voting machines are subject only to voluntary federal guidelines. "Slot machines are more heavily regulated," says Adam Stubblefield, who studies voting machines at Johns Hopkins University. No federal authority examines the terminals' computer code, leaving open the possibility that a scheming programmer could insert a "Trojan Horse" program - hidden code that could switch vote totals and then cover its tracks. "One crook, getting the right job, could probably throw a presidential election," says computer scientist Douglas Jones, who reviews voting equipment for Iowa.