Accuracy in Media

The votes are in and the Democrats emerged victorious.  Yet one aspect of the election is still very much up in the air, electronic voting machines.

I am no technophobe, but it is clear that after yesterday’s elections the machines are still not ready for prime time.  In many areas around the country the machines didn’t turn on or suffered from a raft of other problems that required a technician and delayed voters from casting their ballots.  This only fanned the flames of those that believe that this is nothing more than a plot to prevent voters from voting rather than focusing on the flaws of the machines themselves.

One of the reasons that the machines are still having problems apparently is with the manufacturer of the devices.  We have heard the name Diebold many times and most people don’t know that the company is really in the business of manufacturing ATM machines and not voting machines.  Actually they fell into the voting machine business after they bought a Brazilian company that then supplied the country with 186,000 machines for their elections.  Everything went smoothly and after the election debacle we had here in 2000 the company thought they could replicate their success back home.  There was only one problem.  The machines made for Brazil were not sophisticated enough for the U.S.  So Diebold went shopping and purchased a U.S. based company called Global Electronic Systems who had a touch screen system that really hadn’t been field tested for large scale use. 

That didn’t stop the company from seeking and winning contracts for voting machines across the country.  The company quickly fell behind on orders and didn’t really have the technical expertise to handle the surge of orders.

Now I don’t want to pin all the blame on Diebold.  It’s a fine company that does a very good job with its core operations, but may have overstepped in its quest to get a piece of the lucrative electronic voting machine pie.

If you combine the inexperience of the Diebold unit with that of election officials and volunteers across the country you have a recipe for disaster.  With over 3,000 separate counties across the U.S. and countless polling places, there isn’t an efficient or effective way of training everyone on the proper use of this machinery.

Luckily it seems that while there were problems and there will be some ongoing disputes about the machines we avoided a large scale debacle.  On the other hand without a paper trail and having to have complete faith in technology and the workers who oversee it is still unsettling. 

I voted by absentee ballot, partly due to my experience with the machines in the September primary.  There are problems with this as well.  My vote will only be counted if the race is close and I have to trust that the Postal Service delivered my ballot and that I didn’t make a mistake of any kind that would invalidate the ballot.

What is the answer, I don’t really know.  For me voting with the punch card system was easy and I had proof that I voted.  I never experienced any problems.  It seems that the rush to electronic voting was more like throwing the baby out with the bath water.  There is no doubt that electronic voting is the future, but the future isn’t necessarily now.

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