Electronic Voting as the Key to Ballot Reform

Electronic Voting as the Key to Ballot Reform

Rick Gibson (American University, USA) and Christopher Brown (American University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-947-2.ch091
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The emergence of online markets and e-business was expected to revolutionize market structures, supply chains, and consumer behavior. The technological potential led to hasty forecasts that predicted extremely low costs for information. Corresponding communications advances suggested increased transparency and response speeds. Nowhere have these expectations been shown to be more flawed than in the attempted application of electronic voting in the United States. Following the controversy of voting fraud accusations, such as the narrow margin in the Florida election counts in 2000, traditional voting methods have suffered a general loss of trust in the public perception (Dill et al., 2003). These methods, which include but are not limited to optical readers and punch-card ballots, have been heavily scrutinized by critics in the wake of reports of widespread malfunctions, which suggest that the primary attributes of a successful e-vote scheme: anonymity, scalability, speed, audit, and accuracy. It also brings much criticism into the picture in regard to the reliability of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. Cranor (2001) reported that, in Florida, esoteric terms for voting mishaps (e.g., the “hanging chad”) became the focus of many postelection jokes due to faulty punch-card machinery. Moreover, she reported that some local polling sites in New York with ancient voting mechanisms were missing levers. These machines had been manufactured so long ago that the necessary maintenance could no longer be performed. Such technical problems present huge obstacles for vote integrity. Weiss (2001) provided explanations of the many ways in which votes are recorded and how effective (or ineffective) these methods have been in elections. The author provides a general overview of the possibilities for Internet voting in addition to drawing a parallel between it and ATM transactions, noting the importance of setting up an e-vote system, which takes advantage of the same kind of transaction-based technology as ATMs, which do not use the Internet per se—thus dealing with the social issues that often go hand-in-hand with a fundamentally new advance in voting procedure, such as the conveto the aforementioned faulty voting machines, there is a real concern regarding ballot design in light of “butterfly ballot” confusion made notorious during the Florida national election. Such odd designs are the result of election officials putting the function of the voting machine ahead of voter readability and understanding. Thus, even voters with 20/20 vision and great hand-eye coordination may not be able to vote properly with poor ballot layouts, contrary to the popular belief that such voting errors resulted from those voters of old age with visual handicaps. Mercuri (2002) reported on the defects of DREs brought into Florida poll sites after the election fiasco of 2000. New technologies should be studied further until real implementation can be brought into the polling sites. If U.S. citizens look beyond their own national issues with voting failure, they find themselves behind the times when they glance at other democratic countries such as Brazil and Costa Rica (Weiss, 2001). Such systems involving secure electronic implementations force voters to consider the benefits of electronic over paper systems in terms of voter fraud, cost, accessibility, and usability. One pertinent question becomes obvious at this point: Why are poll sites continuing to use voting equipment that does not meet the needs of its voters? If the mechanisms for voting are compromised, the very nature of our democracy is threatened. Undoubtedly, as with any information system, the success of the electronic voting process critically depends on voters’ beliefs and feelings about the electronic voting process. The more voters, become aware of the system’s failure and lack of credibility, there will be less trust in the efficacy of the voting procedures and in those who oversee elections. As a response to the degeneration of traditional voting methods and spurred by technological paradigms, e-voting has become a new catch-phrase in ballot reform. This new term, however, is shrouded in ambiguity. On one side of the debate we have those that talk about e-voting in terms of the Internet and the ability to cast votes from a great number of different locations (Weiss, 2001). The other camp of e-voting still thinks of the process in the traditional sense of conducting elections at local pollingsites, but instead polling sites would be virtually, if not entirely, paperless. Both camps, however, agree that e-voting has the potential for solving the problems of traditional voting techniques but must first be approached with cautious planning.

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