Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Is voting security in Florida still a problem?


By David Gewirtz

Here at Computing Unplugged Magazine, one of our editorial mandates is to examine technological issues as they affect society as a whole. This summer, we subjected the obscure technology of broadband-over-powerline to an in-depth analysis, bringing in discussions by both proponents and opponents, resulting in the most in-depth analysis of the issue ever published.

"It was, without a doubt, the most disturbing voting experience I've ever had."

Back in the year 2000, you may recall the presidential elections here in the United States resulted in a virtual tie, with the election outcome finally being decided by the United States Supreme Court. While part of the problem could be attributed to an almost perfectly divided electorate, the bulk of the problem revolved around poor voting mechanisms and procedures.

The outgrowth of this was the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which was designed to improve on the security and reliability of voting practices. HAVA required or helped states to replace outdated voting equipment and establish voter registration databases. The Associated Press reports:

32 percent of registered voters were using equipment added since the 2004 elections. Nearly half of all voters were using optical-scan systems that ask them to fill in blanks, with ballots then fed into a computer. 38 percent were casting votes on touchscreen machines that have been criticized as susceptible to hackers.

Our interest here at Computing Unplugged was initially the touchscreen machines, since this is a computing technology that touches on our coverage areas. However, we're also interested in the optical-scan systems, since they, too, are managed by computers and computing technology.

Today is Election Day here in the United States. As a registered voter, I did my duty and went down to my local polling place, and cast my vote. It was, without a doubt, the most disturbing voting experience I've ever had. In particular, we had issues of both inappropriate electioneering and a complete lack of privacy.

Before I discuss it, I need to explain something. I'm doing my very best to describe the voting experience here without touching on any partisan issues. I'm human, so I do have an opinion, but from an editorial perspective, it's not appropriate for me to advocate, discuss, or even side with one party or another, or one issue or another.