An Analysis of the Florida Electronic Voting System
Published 16 Aug 2016
Thus, after the 2000 presidential election, a majority supported the move towards computerized election the use of touch-screen voting machine. Its efficacy was tested in the recent elections in Florida where around 18,000 votes in Sarasota County were missing. According to a newspaper report entitled “Florida debacle shows perils of electronic voting; the security of paperless voting machines cannot be guaranteed, a federal agency says”, this represents 15 percent of under-voting in Sarasota County rendering questionable the result of Florida’s 13th Congressional District Elections. Until now the issue between the two candidates is still unresolved.
This led to doubts about the wisdom of shifting from paper-based elections to electronic touch-screen voting machines. The fears and apprehension of some sectors against the immediate shift to computerized elections have basis after all. As a result, even Governor Charlie Crist has announced that he plans to change voting systems in Florida so that ballots can be verified by paper trail and that he wants to replace touch-screen voting machines with optical scanners in 15 counties.
An analysis however of the Florida Electronic Voting System reveals that sophisticated technology is not the solution to the problems of the election. This system despite its advantages failed in measuring up to certain standards of a good voting system. Although it is acknowledged that electronic voting systems have removed the hassles of the paper-based election the time, however, is not yet ripe for the swift change.
There are specific concerns about the software program that runs the voting system which computer experts say is questionable and can be manipulated or hacked from outside.
One issue raised against the electronic voting system is the security of the software that operates the voting system. It is argued that there is no assurance that the security features of the voting system are strong enough to protect it from hackers who could either come from within the company selling the electronic voting system or from outside. According to Christopher Drew (2007), computer scientists from California universities have successfully hacked into three electronic voting systems. If three electronic voting systems can be hacked then it is also possible that all the other voting systems is not secured and may also be hacked.
Another issue raised against the use of the electronic voting system is the lack of a paper trail that will help verify the results of the election in case of any controversy. Taking into account the questions surrounding the reliability of the software that will operate the electronic voting system, it is very important that there must be a paper trail that will confirm if the results of the election are accurate. This principle is termed as its audibility. Another point is that using the electronic voting system, the electorate will be relying on a memory card the accuracy of which is still unreliable. Other loopholes include the possibility of over voting and the complexity in its use that may discourage, the old, disabled and illiterate from voting.
Critics also say that the lack of paper – trail may prove disastrous in case the result of elections is so close that it is necessary to do a recount. In the case of a very close election, a recount is generally recognized as the last resort which can help determine the actual results of the election. At present, there is no electronic equipment that can provide this kind of security or guaranty to the electorate.
Many of the equipment that is currently available are unreliable and provide the opportunity for fraud. As mentioned previously, the public demands that the following minimum standards comply with in any election:
- a) the anonymity of the voters must be preserved;
- b) the voting system used must be tamper-resistant;
- c) the entire voting system including the manner of choosing the candidates and reflecting this choice in the ballot must be comprehensible to the voter regardless of their age or disability. These are the basic requirements for the conduct of a free and honest election.
The problem however with the shift to the electronic voting system is that it does not guaranty the privacy and audibility of the result of the election. It is argued that the present equipment we have right now do not protect the privacy of the voters and provide for a paper-trail that can be used to recount and verify the results of the election. For the electronic voting system to work, the software program must be able to backtrack vote totals from the actual ballots that come from legitimate voters to ensure its audibility. At the same time, the ballot must not be able to identify or be traced back to the voter to ensure his privacy. The present electronic voting machines we have right now do not provide for these two mechanisms that are essential before the public could actually trust these machines. Many experts add that these two concerns cannot be mutually satisfied with the use of any electronic voting systems.
Modernization of the conduct of election from beginning to end is the desired end. This, however, presupposes that the right computer and electronic voting systems must be in place. We currently do not have this technology. It is indeed erroneous for the public to think that the technology we currently have can provide the solution to our voting problems. Using computers and voting machines will not immediately lead to a better election. As of the moment, Florida is simply not yet ready for the drastic change.