In a week, millions of Americans will exercise their most important civil right – the right to vote. But as surely as some campaigns will end in a deluge of confetti and others in popped balloons, there will also be problems with vote tallies. Some votes will be counted more than once, some votes will be counted not at all, and some votes will appear as if by magic. This state of affairs is not caused by corruption. It is caused by malfunctioning voting machines. Since 2002, federal, state and local governments have spent billions on electronic voting systems. These systems are complex, consisting of tens of thousands of lines of computer code. And when, as is inevitable, some machines malfunction on the first Tuesday in November, it is election officials who will be asked to explain. They will struggle to cope with these problems while under enormous pressure to produce timely and accurate results. One would think that information about voting machine malfunctions would be just as open as the democracy for which, they are, quite literally the linchpin. Instead, defects or failures in voting machines are treated as secrets. For the most part, voting system manufacturers are under no obligation to publicly report malfunctions to a central authority. Officials in each of the nation’s approximately 4,700 election jurisdictions are left to fend for themselves.
The contrast with the auto industry is instructive. In June 2009, researchers mining the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s complaint database discovered a high rate of failure for Chinese valve stems. These findings ultimately led to the recall of millions of valve stems in vehicle tires and almost certainly prevented unnecessary problems for thousands of car owners.
A recent comprehensive report by the Brennan Center for Justice demonstrates that problems with voting machines in one jurisdiction will often crop up in another. To cite but one example, Ohio officials discovered that at least 1,000 votes were undercounted in nine of the state’s 44 counties in a March 2008 state primary. Little did election officials know that the identical problem with the same vendor’s machines had happened next door in Illinois four years earlier. As it stands now, officials depend on the manufacturers to alert them to problems with their equipment.
Full Article: A Common Sense Solution to Defective Voting