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Cybernaut

E-voting tested in Canada

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The U.S. electoral system is a mess. If it’s not a debate about hanging chads and impropriety in Florida, then it’s a controversy over the companies contracted to replace the chad and ballot system with touch-screen voting booths.

Still, the current administration is determined to bring American voting standards and democracy into the next millennium. Although getting rid of the antiquated and unrepresentative electoral college system would be a good move, and it would be nice to have a viable third party option, upgrading the way people cast their votes is a good start.

There have been a few bugs thus far. In one byelection, three candidates won their ridings with the exact same number of votes – a statistical impossibility on par with winning the 6/49 jackpot three Saturday’s in a row. The systems don’t issue any receipts just yet, and leave no trail for auditors to follow if there’s a discrepancy or grounds for a recount.

Furthermore, some critics have pointed out that the systems are not totally secure from hackers, and that voting results could be manipulated.

Then there are the simple technical errors. In one election, it was discovered that the little boxes on the screen you push didn’t line up properly with the array of choices voters had to make.

Still, government is pushing ahead, aided by the Help America Vote Act and almost $4 billion in grants to states to modernize their voting equipment.

Bugs are being worked out, the computer code is being evaluated by supposedly independent sources, paper trails are being given serious consideration, and most states will give the green light to electronic voting in the 2004 presidential election. Expect it to be a very controversial issue, especially in states where the results don’t match up with opinion polls, exit polls, and the Republican Party wins – all three companies manufacturing e-voting systems in the U.S. are Republican Party supporters. One CEO, Walden O’Dell of Diebold Inc., actually wrote a letter to Republican Party members that "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Wonder how they won the contract. Anyway…

To read more about the perils and pitfalls of touch screen voting, read Paul Krugman’s article from the New York Times at www.truthout.org/docs_03/120303A.shtml; the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility comments to the California Touch Screen Task Force at www.cpsr.org/issues/vote-catouchscreen.html; Mark Fiore’s cartoon Digital Democracy at www.workingforchange.com; any one of the articles at http://electioncentral.blog-city.com; and Fair Elections at www.fairelections.us.

Why is this important to Canada? Because we’re not all that far behind.

While touch-screen voting is prohibitively expensive and unnecessary for a country out size – we manage to hand count results for our national elections in about four hours – a number of tests are currently going on that involve online voting. The Democratic Primary in Michigan is attempting something similar next week.

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