Count me as one of those experts who says they can't be trusted. The problem is that these machines have no audit trail. They have no paper trail. I am a software engineer whose minor in college was accounting. If I created a system for accounting for money that had no paper trail for auditors to follow, the IRS would put me into jail. Yet for some reason it's okay if we create a system for accounting for votes that has no paper trail? Since when did our right to vote become less important than the almighty dollar?
There's no replacement for paper. Even electronic cash registers and ATM machines produce paper -- they have a paper tape in them that records every transaction, so that if the electronic gadgetry goes down, the paper tape can be examined. Electronic accounting entries can be gimmicked in the computer databases, or just plain dumped into /dev/null. It's hard to gimmick up an entire roll of cash register tape -- and if the IRS audits you, the cash register tape is likely to be the first thing they want to see.
There's a number of possible ways to add a paper trail, such as having the electronic voting machine print a slip of paper with the votes on it, and the slip of paper is what's counted. The important point is that there must be a paper trail.
Luckily there already is a system that has a perfectly useful paper trail, with little modification required: The good ole' optically scanned ballot with feedback system. Numbered optically-scannable ballot cards are sent to the polling site. The elections department has a list of which ballot cards are sent to which polling site. Representatives of each party at the polling site shuffle the ballots to randomly number them. Voters come up, get a card, place it over the template, fill it out, then put it into the machine. If there is a problem with the ballot, the machine spits it back out at the voter and the voter then has to take it to the desk where elections officials sit, have them certify it as "spoiled" (witnessed by representatives of each party), and then receives a new ballot if the machine does not accept the ballot this second time. At the end of the day the officials of all parties verify that of the ballots that they received, all ballots are either accounted for, in the "spoiled" pile, or in the ballot box.
So there it is: we already almost HAVE the perfect voting system. The only real problem with this system is lack of an authentication method. There is nothing to authenticate that this ballot was cast at a certain box, and witnessed as such by representatives of the parties. But that's easy enough to solve. That's why message authentication checksums such as MD5 were invented. Just have the ballot box be a little more complicated than just a simple OCR scanner, with a little barcode printer inside it. The barcode printer would print a checksum on the ballot when it was submitted, a checksum that would basically be a MD5 sum of the precinct, box, ballot number, the votes on the card, and secret passphrases entered by representatives of each party. That solves what we call that the "authentication" problem in computer science -- verifying that a packet we receive over the network came from who we think it came from, not from someone sending us a fraudulent packet. Such a checksum would prevent someone from breaking into the warehouse where the ballots are stored, replacing the ballots with duplicates with different votes, then replacing the box (with the now-fraudulent ballots) and demanding a recount of the box. But that's the *ONLY* problem with this time-tested method of counting votes, and it's one that's easily solvable. The ballots can then be recounted simply by pushing them back through a counting machine after the party representatives enter their passphrases -- the printed checksum will verify that yes, this ballot is intact and authentic. Voila. You can even count the things by hand, for cryin' out loud, if you don't trust the machine to count.
So why the rush to get rid of the optical scanner machines in favor of the touch-screen machines that have no countable ballots? There's a number of theories here, including various conspiracy theories (mostly based around the notion that the voting machine companies are owned by Republican operatives), but the one that makes the most sense to me is the desire to do away with an audit trail that would allow a real recount. The old lever-type machines were similarly popular in areas where voting fraud was common, for similar reasons -- you couldn't do a recount. Voting officials hate recounts, and in the aftermath of the Florida 2000 fiasco (and the Florida 2002 fiasco, btw -- a news item just came across the wire that over *100,000* ballots were found today that had not been counted as part of the totals yesterday) many elections officials are saying "Not in my jurisdiction!". By eliminating the audit trail (recount possibility), they are hoping to make their own jobs easier. The notion that this is terrible accounting practice, that numbers in databases are easily altered and electronic entries don't always get into the database correctly if the software has a bug or crashes, this notion does not occur to them, because they are political hacks, not accountants.
So yes, the new touch-screen machines are cool-looking. But no, they're not more accurate, and no, they're not better than "old" technology, and yes, they offer unprecedented opportunities for vote fraud if a computer-savvy person gets to the hard drive and changes the votes, or, more likely, just plain old vote lossage (I mean, the things are based on Windows, for cryin' out loud! Of COURSE they lose data when they get the Blue Screen of Death, as happens every fifteen minutes!). This is a case where tried'n'true paper is far superior to electronic gimmickry -- and where we, as voters, should be demanding that our votes be cast in a technology where we *know* they count: good ole' paper.
-- Eric Lee Green, Scottsdale, Arizona.