Electronic Voting Systems: Are Voting Machines Safe from Tampering?


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United States voters go to the polls with forms of e-voting. Image by Muffet

It’s voting day in the 2012 election season, and it is worth looking into voting machines.

How do they actually work?

Technology is great, as long as it works right, but there are many worries that voting machines are much easier to tamper with than paper votes. (Setting aside the notorious hanging chad.)

So, are electronic voting machines safe?

It is interesting to note that all but one state – Idaho – uses some type of electronic voting.

How Do Electronic Voting Machines Work?

The machines are used to cast and then count the votes afterwards. Voting machines have been through many changes over the years, from being punch-card systems to the modern day electronic systems. They offer voters the chance to quickly cast a vote through an electronic system. The votes are counted by a computer, which helps to reduce the risk of a repeat of the Florida recount from the 2000 elections.

There are two types of systems available for states to use. 60% of states use optical scanners, in which voters shade in the box of their choice, and then feed it into the machine. This is similar to the way SATs are filled out and counted.

25% of states use electronic voting machines – direct recording electronic machines – which come in variations. The first uses push buttons to select a candidate, the second uses a touch screen to select a candidate, and the third uses a wheel to roll to the selected candidate and then confirm the vote.

All the systems register the vote and automatically count it. However, there are concerns that a lack of paper trail leads to inconsistencies, and opens the ability to tamper with the vote.

A History of Problems with E-voting Machines

There is a history of problems surrounding the technology used in voting booths. In 2004, North Carolina and New Jersey confirmed that votes were removed from their systems. There have also been studies in hacking into the machines and tampering with votes. This concern first came to light in 2008 – an expert in computer science, Roger Johnston, conducted a test on the Diebold AccuVote system. Two years prior to the experiment, Johnston and his group of students hacked into the Sequoia system.

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