Electronic Voting Machine Headaches Shut Out Citizens
Delays Mean Long Lines for Voters in Florida, Utah, and Other States
San Francisco - Problems with electronic voting machine failures kept some polls from opening, created long lines, and left many voters puzzled about whether their votes were counted in Tuesday's high stakes election.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) joined a nationwide team of technology lawyers and other experts staffing nationwide call centers and legal command posts on Election Day. The volunteers chronicled election problems, assisted voters, and worked with election officials to pull malfunctioning machines wherever possible. By 8:00 pm ET on Tuesday, over 17,000 incidents, including machine-related problems, had been reported to the Election Protection Coalition's 866-OUR-VOTE hotline.
The types of machine problems reported to EFF volunteers were wide-ranging in both size and scope. Polls opened late for machine-related reasons in polling places throughout the country, including Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Utah, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and California. In Broward County, Florida, voting machines failed to start up at one polling place, leaving some citizens unable to cast votes for hours. EFF and the Election Protection Coalition sought to keep the polling place open late to accommodate voters frustrated by the delays, but the officials refused. In Utah County, Utah, more than 100 precincts opened one to two hours late on Tuesday due to problems with machines. Both county and state election officials refused to keep polling stations open longer to make up for the lost time, and a judge also turned down a voter's plea for extended hours brought by EFF.
"If election officials insist on depending on this unreliable technology, they should be prepared to react appropriately when things go wrong," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Voters should not have to bear the brunt of this poor planning. We are very disappointed that the court did not recognize that."
"Jumping vote" problems -- touchscreen machines displaying selections not intended by voters -- once again appeared across the country and across machine models. Some voters again encountered difficulty making or changing selections on touchscreen machines, resulting in long lines and frustrated voters leaving polling places. Optical scan machines also broke down in many places, most prominently in Cook County, Illinois, but also in Los Angeles, California, also leading to long delays for voters.
The national monitoring campaign was developed after many states hastily implemented flawed electronic voting machines and related election procedures. Twenty-three states still do not require a paper record of all votes, despite the demonstrated technical failures of e-voting machines in the 2004 presidential election. Without a record, voters cannot verify that the e-voting machines are recording their votes as intended, and election officials cannot conduct recounts. In addition, most of these machines use "black box" software that hasn't been publicly reviewed for security.
But poorly designed systems are not the only problem. Most election workers remain woefully under-trained regarding potential e-voting problems. Vendor technicians frequently have unsupervised access to voting equipment, and local election officials routinely deny attempts to examine e-voting audit data.
Along with supporting local election reform, EFF has helped Congressional Rep. Rush Holt's Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act garner immense, bipartisan support. The bill contains several critically important election reforms, including the requirement of a paper trail for all electronic voting machines, random audits, and public availability of all code used in elections.
"Voters deserve these practical election reforms -- not long lines and unverifiable results," said EFF Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman.
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