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Reply #12: Voting into the void | Farhad Manjoo in Salon 11/05/02 [View All]

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Stephanie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-27-03 10:19 PM
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12. Voting into the void | Farhad Manjoo in Salon 11/05/02 /

Voting into the void
New touch-screen voting machines may look spiffy, but some experts say they can't be trusted.

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By Farhad Manjoo

Nov. 5, 2002 | In mid-September, a few days after yet another problem-ridden election in Florida, Rebecca Mercuri got a phone call from Janet Reno. Mercuri, a computer science professor at Bryn Mawr, wasn't very surprised to hear from the former attorney general; Reno had already been declared the unofficial loser in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Mercuri, who during the past two years has become the country's fiercest critic of electronic voting machines, has recently found herself indispensable to losers.

A fast-talking, fact-toting woman who can recount dozens of stories of voting machines going disastrously haywire, Mercuri goes into a region whose election has been held up and proceeds to hold forth. Mercuri tells everyone she can, from election judges to county supervisors to the local media, that the supposedly "state-of-the-art" machines they've all been sold are nothing but a "a bill of goods."

So far, Mercuri has had little success in convincing local leaders to slow down their drive to purchase new voting machines. By late evening on Election Day 2002, though, people other than electoral losers may start to see some sense in Mercuri's arguments.

In the two years since Florida's first bungled election, dozens of local municipalities -- and the entire state of Georgia -- have thrown out their antiquated voting machines in favor of touch-screen, "ATM-style" systems. According to some reports, more than 20 percent of voters will use such machines this year, and that number is poised to increase during the next decade. In October, without the slightest nod to the irony of the situation, President Bush signed into law a sweeping new bill that promises to end the voting problems that some say helped nudge him into office. The new law, called the Help America Vote Act, will provide almost $4 billion to states to allow them to purchase new machines.

But as Florida's Sept. 10 primary illustrated, the new systems are not a panacea -- and, according to Mercuri and a growing number of tech-savvy critics, the electronic systems are actually worse than their much-maligned punch-card cousins. Mercuri's chief complaint with the touch-screen system is that its inner workings are often a complete secret. When a voter touches the screen to make a choice, there is no confirmation that the machine has actually registered the correct selection. In the old punch-card and fill-in-the-circle paper systems, voters can see their choice marked on paper. And in the event of a recount, election officials can, as a last resort, manually count those slips of paper. Since the new electronic systems leave no paper trail, there's no chance of a recount. <more>

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