No More Chads: Is Electronic Voting the Wave of the Future?

NO MORE CHADS: IS ELECTRONIC VOTING THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE?….Bev Harris at Black Box Voting has been leading the charge against electronic voting machines for quite some time and linked recently to this “scathing” report on the risks of electronic voting from computer scientists at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities. The report also got some coverage in the New York Times a couple of days ago, and it looks like the issue might start getting some more mainstream attention.

The basic problem is this: if voting is completely computerized, how do you know if the computer makes a mistake? This has given rise to some conspiracy theorizing that doesn’t strike me as very serious, but conspiracies aside it is true that complex computer systems inevitably have bugs and security holes. For this reason, I’m skeptical of electronic voting even if I don’t think the Republican party is surreptitiously buying up voting machine companies and deliberately corrupting their software.

Glenn Reynolds thinks the answer is simple: sure, get rid of punch cards, but replace them with paper ballots that are read by specialized scanners. I agree with him. This is known as “mark sense” technology, which I have a lot of experience with (it’s basically the same as the Scantron cards used for multiple choice tests), and it’s robust, simple to use, and highly reliable. What’s more, it leaves behind paper ballots that can be checked in case a manual recount is needed or if someone suspects that the computer has miscounted.

But I’ll also add one other comment, especially since I took a shot at this last month: if we do move toward completely electronic voting, I can’t think of a better candidate for open source software. Legislation should mandate that the source code for these machines ? or at least the critical portions of it ? be open for inspection. This has become fairly common in security applications, where it’s generally agreed that the best way to ensure there are no security holes is to let a legion of experts try to find them. If you can’t hack the system when the source code is public, then you just can’t hack the sytem.

UPDATE: South Knox Bubba, who knows from computers, says we should support the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003. Write your congressman!