22 June 2004

The Trouble With E-Ballots

It's a culture clash between the election world, which prizes reliability, and computer scientists, who obsess over security

Steven Levy
June 28 issue

It's now official: Walden O'Dell is no longer raising funds for George W. Bush. Why should you care? That was Walden O'Dell's attitude last year, when he promised, in his role as rainmaker for Ohio's presidential re-election campaign, to deliver the state to the incumbent. To his surprise, he learned that lots of people did indeed care—once they realized that his day job was running Diebold, a company that makes electronic-voting devices used by millions of voters. So it was prudent for Diebold to adopt a new policy that banned its executives from outside political work, adopted months ago but formally announced just recently.

Unfortunately, Diebold hasn't conceded its bigger problem—that the current generation of computer-voting devices, the ones that many of us will use this November, are flawed by their inability to verify that the voter's choices are actually the ones that count in the final tallies.

[...] O'Dell claims to be "agnostic" on the necessity of providing voters with evidence that their choices are the ones reflected in the count. But the possibility that a future president can attain office mounted on a Trojan horse isn't a philosophical issue: it's a threat to democracy. It's nice to know that Wally O'Dell is no longer working to elect one candidate in particular. It would be even nicer to know, beyond any doubt, that his voting machines weren't, either.


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