The general election isn’t till November but the hottest campaign this year may be the arguments for and against high-tech new computerized voting machines. The touch-screen machines made by Diebold automatically register votes, count ballots and file their results. University of Iowa computer-science professor Doug Jones says the goal is helping voters. Our traditional voting technology’s hard to use if you’re blind or handicapped in some other way, and the promise of computerized voting systems is that they’ll make it easier. But Jones says the more they’re in use, the more problems appear. The other promise is that computers will eliminate errors in vote-counting, since we all know that people make mistakes. Jones and other critics say the makers of computerized vote-counting machines don’t build in safeguards or ways to check on the process so that errors can be caught. There have been some cases in which the machines were clearly wrong. He cites a Florida county where in a practice vote for the 2000 election, Gore got negative 16-thousand votes, clearly a big mistake but one that was fortunately corrected before the election. There are already jokes about how a teenage hacker will make some pop star the winner of the next presidential election by tampering with a national network of voting machines. Jones has heard rumors of some chilling efforts to control the computerized voting machines to alter elections. He says reports are growing of serious efforts at hacking originating in the Arab world, apparently part of a coordinated plan of attack. He says there are serious risks any time you computerize things with limited security, whether it’s a power plant or a hospital or a voting system. But it would be just as easy to have an election ruined by mistakes, rather than malice.For every would-be hacker, he figures hundreds or thousands of voters are making honest mistakes, and he’s just as worried about automating them as letting machines be prey to hacking. Professor Jones says paper printouts, a checkpoint where a human will verify vote totals, even a “reciept” printed for every voter would be ways to add a check to all-computer voting systems. Handicapped voters in California are suing the secretary of state for de-certifying voting machines that cannot be audited.
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