In elections this March in Palm Beach County, Fla., an election management software glitch gave votes to the wrong candidate and the wrong contest. But paper ballots were available, and a recount was done. The mistake was corrected. Such failures are hardly unique. And often they are worse. In every national election in the past decade, computer voting systems have failed with memory-card glitches and other errors that resulted in votes lost or miscounted, according to a new national study, “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness.” More than 300 voting-machine problems were reported in the 2010 midterm elections and more than 1,800 in the 2008 general election, according to the study by Common Cause, Rutgers School of Law, and the Verified Voting Foundation. “Voting systems frequently fail,” the study concludes. “And when they fail, votes are lost. Voters in jurisdictions without paper ballots or records for every vote cast, including military and overseas votes, do not have the same protections as states that use paper ballot systems. This is not acceptable.”
Despite glitches and lost votes, America has survived. However, with the November elections just months away, danger lurks in the surprising number of states with computerized voting systems that lack any paper backup system – potentially opening the door to fraud or altered election outcomes, the study found. Computerized voting systems in 16 states – including some swing states – have no paper backup ballots or other paper trails “in some or all counties” and so could not reconstitute an accurate vote count from those machines if software or hardware fails, the report says.
Lack of audits – 25 states don’t do them – was another key problem, since paper ballots as a backup aren’t enough to ensure vote integrity. “The problem is not just fraud and the threat that these systems can be manipulated, but that they are aging, complex systems where things go wrong,” says Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation. “What matters most is: Can you recover from problems? Can you recover votes that are counted accurately? There are still way too many systems nationwide that can’t do that.”