Week of 9.8.06
Down for the Count
More From This Week: Down for the Count | Deforest Soaries on the Politics of Voting | Drilling for Truth | Transcript
Jammed machines, rejected ballots, malfunctions that declare the losing candidate the winner...if this were occurring on American Idol, you can imagine the outrage, but it's happening with a far more important American institution: democratic elections. New election machines, as mandated and funded by federal law, may create a new election debacle instead of correcting the old one.
Video: Down for the Count
In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which allocated $3.1 billion for all 50 states to update their voting systems, following election fiascos in years past.
Some industry analysts suggest that the government implemented the new technology too quickly to the detriment of not only security and performance of the new machines, but the integrity of our democratic process. "Losing candidates are going to have more and more credibility when they say 'Well, I think that the voting machines were rigged,'" Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at John Hopkins University, told NOW.
To see for ourselves if the new technology was up to task, NOW traveled to Oakland County, Michigan on Primary Day, where election workers encountered more than a few frustrating snags, even when demonstrating the machines for us. In one instance, it took five attempts for the machine to accept a ballot.
We also checked in on other states, including Texas, Iowa, New Mexico, and - you guessed it — Ohio. What we found were alarming scenes of computer and human error, poor results validation, nonexistent contingency plans, and extreme vulnerability to tampering.
These are not isolated cases. In half of 37 primaries held this year, there were technical problems associated with the new HAVA-mandated technology. These included:
Will new voting machines cure election headaches or cause them? Next time on NOW.
Election Science Institute: Analysis of May 2006 Primary Election Cuyahoga County, Ohio [pdf]
EAC 2006 Quick Start Guide for Voting Officials [pdf]
Avi Rubin's Blog: An account of Rubin's experiences as a poll worker on Sept. 12