Ballots of Yore: A History Lesson in Voting Technology

BY Jenny Marder  February 23, 2012 at 4:10 PM EDT

Last Thursday, science correspondent Miles O’Brien explored the benefits and drawbacks of online voting. If you can shop and bank online, why not vote that way, he asks. Turns out there are plenty of reasons why: so far, online votes are vulnerable to hackers and security breaches.

“Secure Internet voting is a bit like the phrase ‘safe cigarettes,’” Ronald Rivest, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is shown saying at a panel talk on the subject.

But of course, from clunky polling machines to the famous butterfly ballot of the 2000 presidential election, internet voting isn’t the only ballot technology that’s been fraught with problems. Accurate, secure voting has been a challenge throughout history.

For historical perspective, Miles spoke with political historian and curator William L. Bird from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, who provided a glimpse of various American voting systems through time and the problems they’ve encountered.

Here are excerpts from that interview:

Stay tuned for Judy Woodruff’s upcoming interview with Bird about campaign memorabilia.