U.S. election after-Math
Recounting problems still associated with election integrity,
transparency, and accountability.
FRoM the PeRSPective
puter-based election integrity,
it was fortunate that the U.S.
presidential electoral vote plurality was definitive. However,
numerous problems remain to be rectified, including some experienced in
close state and local races.
Elections represent a complicated
system with end-to-end requirements
for security, integrity, and privacy, but
with many weak links throughout. For
example, a nationwide CNN survey for
the 2008 election tracked problems
in registration (26%), election systems
(15%), and polling place accessibility
and delays (14%). Several specific problems are illustrative.
Registration. In Cleveland and Columbus, OH, many voters who had previously voted at their current addresses
were missing from the polling lists;
some were on the Ohio statewide database, but not on the local poll registry,
and some of those had even received
postcard notification of their registration and voting precinct. At least 35,000
voters had to submit provisional ballots.
(Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner rejected
the use of a list of 200,000 voters whose
names did not identically match federal
records.) Several other states attempted
to disenfranchise voters based on non-matches with databases whose accuracy is known to be seriously flawed.
Machines. In Kenton County, KY,
a judge ordered 108 Hart voting machines shut down because of persistent
problems with straight-party votes not
being properly recorded for the national races. As in 2002 and 2004, voters reported touch-screen votes flipped
from the touched candidate’s name to
another. Calibration and touching are
apparently quite sensitive.
In Maryland, Andrew Harris, a longtime advocate in the state senate for
avoiding paperless touch-screen and
other direct-recording voting machines
(DREs) ran for the Representative position in Congressional District 1. He
trailed by a few votes over the 0.5% margin that would have necessitated a mandatory recount. Of course, recounts in
paperless DREs are relatively meaningless if the results are already incorrect.
In California, each precinct typically
had only one DRE, for blind and other
disabled voters who preferred not to
vote on paper. In Santa Clara County, 57
of those DREs were reported to be inoperable. (Secretary of State Debra Bowen
was a pioneer in commissioning a 2007
study on the risks inherent in existing
computer systems. )
There were also various reports in
other states of paperless DREs that were
inoperable including some in which
more than half of the machines could
not be initialized. In Maryland and Virginia, there were reports of voters having to wait up to five hours.
every vote Should count. Close
Senate races in Minnesota and Alaska required ongoing auditing and
recounting, particularly as more uncounted votes were discovered. Numerous potential undervotes also
required manual reconsideration for
voter intent. Anomalies are evidently
commonplace, but must be resolvable—
and, in close elections must be resolved.
Deceptive Practices. The George Mason University email system was hacked,
resulting in the sending of misleading
messages regarding student voting. Numerous misleading phone calls, Web
sites, and email messages have been
reported, including those that suggested Democrats were instructed to
vote on Wednesday instead of Tuesday
to minimize poll congestion. 2
The needs for transparency, oversight,
and meaningful audit trails in the voting process are still paramount. Problems are very diverse. Despite efforts to
add voter-verified paper trails to paperless direct-recording voting machines,
some states still used unauditable systems for which meaningful recounts
are essentially impossible. The electronic systems are evidently also difficult to manage and operate.
Systematic disenfranchisement continues. Although there seems to have
been very little voter fraud, achieving accuracy and fairness in the registration
process is essential. To vary an old adage, It’s not just the votes that count, it’s
the votes that don’t count.
An extensive amount of work remains
to be done to provide greater integrity
throughout the election process.
1. bishop, M. and Wagner, d. risks of e-voting. Commun.
ACM 50, 11 (nov. 2007); http://www.sos.ca.gov/
22. e-deceptive campaign Practices, ePic and the
century found. (oct. 20, 2008), http://votingintegrity.
org/pdf/edeceptive_report.pdf; and deceptive
Practices 2.0: legal and Policy responses common
cause, the lawyers committee for civil rights under
law, and the century found. (oct. 20, 2008), http://
Peter G. Neumann moderates the acM risks forum
feBRuaRY2009 | vol. 52 | No. 2 | CommunICatIons of the aCm