In May 2006, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, launched an e-voting system, producing a nationally notorious election disaster in which every technical and management system failed. One of the largest election jurisdictions in the nation, the county used DRE touchscreens similar to Allegheny County’s. When the election tabulation database grew beyond what it was designed to handle — a flaw concealed by the manufacturer — it silently began dropping votes and other data, without notifying officials. An accurate recount was possible, however, because Ohio had required paper printouts of voters’ e-ballots. Recounts showed that some previously announced winners actually had lost. The hidden software problem did not extinguish anyone’s voting rights only because there was a paper trail. Experts in election technology have pointed out that most Pennsylvania counties — including Allegheny — use e-voting systems that have been outlawed by most states. The chief reason? The omission of voter-approved paper printouts that can be recounted and that allow for audits to check on the accuracy of the electronic machines. Even when voting systems are aged and vulnerable to hacking or tampering, durable paper ballots combined with quality-assurance audits can ensure trustworthy results. Cuyahoga County election officials, like many around the nation, have learned that, even though their voting machines are certified and function perfectly one day, on another day they may fail to count accurately. Software bugs — especially from updates, malware and errors in programming — can lead to unpredictable inaccuracies. Cuyahoga County now conducts an audit after every election, using paper ballots, which most Pennsylvania counties are unable to do.
Paper ballots plus audits assure voters their choices have been accurately registered and that no partisan tampering, hacking or software glitches have affected the results of an election. Election officials can evaluate the accuracy of electronic voting systems and correct any tabulation problems. And no adversary — not even a foreign nation with sophisticated espionage capabilities — can manipulate elections results with e-invasions.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania does not provide any of these assurances to voters, candidates, political parties or the nation. Instead, Pennsylvania law mandates little transparency or accountability when it comes to its computer-generated election tallies — something no business organization would tolerate in its information systems.
The constitutional right to vote, the fundamental basis of our democracy, demands provably accurate election results in which all citizens can have faith. But when Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein filed a federal lawsuit to compel a statewide recount in Pennsylvania to check on the accuracy of last month’s election results, it was rejected.