SHIFT: Don't count electronic voting out yet

Each week Adam Frucci takes a closer look at the latest gadget buzz in his column, Shift.

Image by Falon

Technology has swept in to improve nearly every aspect of our lives, from medical science to entertainment to travel. However, one of the most important tasks of our civic duties as Americans, voting, hasn't had the easiest time becoming technologically advanced. Despite fiascos like the whole "hanging chad" nonsense in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, electronic voting has hit a lot of roadblocks. Due to the potential for fraud and rigged elections, technology has been slow in integrating itself into how we cast our ballots. However, that doesn't mean there are no good uses for it in our grand old electoral process.

One of the biggest cases of electronic voting controversy is that Diebold, the maker of some current electronic voting machines, has a history of making pretty insecure products. It's been well documented that it would be all too easy for unscrupulous election workers to totally make up the results for their district if they had some basic know-how. Security and reliability needs to be absolutely assured, with double and triple checks assuring that nothing has been compromised.

Furthermore, there has been somewhat of an uproar over the fact that the CEO of Diebold pledged to do everything he could to win George W. the election in 2000. Fishy? Certainly. With voting machines already not being trusted by the general public, it's important for those behind their development to be as apolitical and neutral as possible. If someone is too personally invested in one party to be impartial when developing the machines, they should find work elsewhere. But it would be irrational to give up on the entire idea of electronic voting because one possibly shady company is screwing the whole thing up.

Another problem with the Diebold voting machines is the lack of a paper trail. If electronic voting machines were created with traceable receipts it would cut out much of the fear of fraud. With every vote recorded as a hard copy somewhere, it would be impossible to alter the results electronically with impunity. You would still have the convenience of electronic voting, with the simplicity of touchscreens and the ease of vote counting, but the ability to do a cross-reference in the case of questionable results would put everyone's mind at ease. This of course raises fears of people's individual votes being tracked, but as long as the votes were tallied anonymously in the hard copy there would be little chance of that happening.

With the reaction to Diebold's shoddy machines already in full swing, with the State of California banning the touchscreen boxes and even suggesting criminal prosecution of the company, it's going to take a lot of work to get e-voting back into people's good graces. The very basis of our democracy rests on people trusting that their votes count, so this isn't something that can be tossed to any old company. However, with the right amount of security and reliability, new machines can improve how we vote. It doesn't make sense for us to keep the same problems of punchcards and the like now that the technology is already here to do this job now. For electronic voting to become the norm, it's going to take a lot of work and attention to not just ensure it's done right — but to spell out its advantages to the electorate so people will actually feel comfortable with it. Hey, it happened with ATMs.