America votes. American election officials sweat. Thatâ€™s the word from polling districts across the country as voters will line up in droves Tuesday in what could be Americaâ€™s largest vote turnout ever. Even with an estimated 16 million people voting early, those casting ballots Election Day should brace for long lines, supplies running short and tempers running even shorter. Add into the mix a dearth of polling staff in some districts and a possible record number of new voters, the U.S. could face a perfect storm to create chaos at the polls.
MediaScout Canada has a good (abbreviated here) rundown of potential problems:
The potential for voting irregularities, if you believe Olivia Ward and Peter Goodspeed, is frightening: electronic voting machines in West Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Georgia and Colorado â€œflippingâ€ votes; accusations of illegal voter-roll purges in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada and Michigan; Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin residents rendered ineligible to vote due to state database inconsistencies; official-looking pamphlets in Virginia instructing Democrats to vote the day after the election; Alabama residents incorrectly listed as felons, who are not allowed to vote; out-of-state students running into voting problems; Republican threats to challenge the eligibility of voters who lost their homes in the mortgage meltdown (now thatâ€™s sympathy).
Iâ€™d add to that the possibility, however slight, of voter fraud that could come from so many new registrations. And this just in: Oprah Winfrey reported trouble early voting.
One of the main culprits to safe, secure voting may not be the bulging voter rolls, but the voting machines themselves. The Independent in London published a story last week investigating the unreliability of voting machines, cataloging a series of technical problems facing this new technology, including:
- Potentially hacking into Diebold machines through a modem;
– Testimony from a computer programmer who wrote an undetectable script to switch peoplesâ€™ votes from one candidate to another;
– Complaints against the idea that private, often â€œpartisanâ€ companies, market and sell the machines;
– The lack of a truly â€œindependentâ€ election commission in the U.S.
After wards, a commentator Frank B. had this to offer:
The more I see of these electronic machines , the more I think we in the U.K. should stick to the old low-tech system.Making a cross on the ballot paper with a small pencil and putting in the ballot box.It's virtually foolproof and tamper-proof.They tried electronic machines in the last Scottish elections and they malfunctioned badly.There is no need to change to a new system.
Commentator Graham Bell at the Ambit Gambit blog at Australiaâ€™s National Forum wonders with the possible hurdles standing in the way of a clean and fair election, why arenâ€™t international election observers scrutinizing the U.S. polls:
As for vote-rigging: the hanging chads of Florida, the deregistration of thousands of lawfully registered voters and all the other electoral tomfoolery should have been enough to get United Nations observers involved in all future U.S. elections; wonder why they are not supervising this election?
Chuck G, who commented on the Macleanâ€™s blog in Canada predicts voting irregularities could spell another long wait for declaring a winner in this election.
I donâ€™t think this election will be decided for weeks to come.
Judging from poll data it looks like Obamaâ€™s support has scattered around the country. With the record number of voters and all this talk about technical problems at the voting booths, Iâ€™m fearful of a long and painful legal process following the election results.
Some bloggers looked at some of the many solutions to fix voting procedures in the United States.
From Paris, Jack of Spades in Wonderland debates whether e-Voting or electronic voting is as safe as online banking, which a lot of Americans already engage in and trust.
When someone steals an election, he or she has to do it by manipulating relatively large numbers. We are talking about thousands, or millions, of votes. Why bother with individual votes then? Letâ€™s do the â€œhalf cent trickâ€. If very small amounts of data are manipulated at a local level, they may amount to huge shifts when added up together. The weakness of every system is the alert threshold. If I am a local (and honest) watchdog at a poll, will I trigger a general alert for a dozen miscast votes out of 3000? I should. But who would, honestly? If every local poll has a dozen miscast votes, thatâ€™s 0.4% error margin. If memory serves right, this could have tipped several elections in the past.
And the mistrust is right there : e-Voting leaves precious little trails. Who knows what someone with access to the central computer with enough skill to cover his tracks could do? Would we notice these 0.4%? Locally, most certainly not. It would mean that every one of these miscast votes would have to be traced back.
The alert threshold has to be lowered and trust has to be earned. What if I (as a local watchdog) asked random (truly random) people to watch me perform my duties? At the very least, even if everyone in the group agrees to drop the case on the 0.4% error margin, someone would know. At best, I canâ€™t be slack anymore, since these people can voice this fact to the world
In Ireland, the blog Tech Central reports on a test to allow U.S. soldiers based in England cast their votes via computer. The results were mixed:
The test has posed unique problems for the companies taking part. Laptops used to cast the ballots have had their hard drives removed to lessen the chance of virus infection, and the voting software is loaded directly from a CD.
Users will also have to print out a paper version of the ballot paper so that the final results can be checked.
However, the move is being questioned by many in Florida. “Taxpayers are still reeling from the costly mistake of allowing DRE [direct recording electronic] touch-screen voting before that technology was secure,” said Dan McCrea, president of the Florida Voters Coalition.
From Kenya, What an African Woman Thinks is astonished to find out that Election Day is not a public holiday in the United States:
That strikes me as very odd.
In Kenya, not only is it a public holiday, but the day is timed so that people can have ample time to travel significant distances just in case they need to do so in order to cast their vote. That is why itâ€™s usually at the end of the year, after Christmas.
Frankly, it never occurred to me that election day anywhere in the world would not be a public holiday.
Doesnâ€™t that make it harder for some people to vote than others? What if youâ€™re a student and you have an exam on election day and youâ€™re in one of those states where voting only takes place on election day? Or what if youâ€™re working a twelve hour shift that day?
Just a comment re Graham Bell’s comment: OSCE/ODIHR, which observes elections in OSCE member states, has an observation mission for the US elections. See http://www.oscepa.org/home/500-OSCE%20Parliamentarians%20gearing%20up%20for%20US%20Election%20Observation%20Mission