Lentis/Electronic Voting

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This chapter of Lentis discusses electronic voting machines in America. Electronic Voting machines became popular shortly after the 2000 election difficulties and have slowly lost support due to verification, security and reliability concerns. This chapter specifically analyzes the rise and fall of the Direct Recording Electronic voting machine in America with a focus on social factors.

Voting Machines Overview[edit]

Direct Recording Electronics[edit]

Main page: DRE Voting Machine

The most common electronic voting machines are Digital Recording Electronics, or DREs. These machines directly store user input in electronic memory. Input is usually achieved through touchscreens. Each DRE machine tabulates its own votes, but precincts must tabulate and verify overall votes by physically transporting the machines themselves or securely encrypted smart-cards to a central tabulation system.

[We] inform the public of the problems with relying on electronic voting machines to record and count our votes, without the backup of a voter-verifiable audit trail.

—VerifiedVoting.org[1] [emphasis added]

DRE voting machines tend to have weaknesses which are widely criticized. A lack of transparency in the software and hardware, a lack of auditable paper trails and physical security weaknesses are all issues found in many DRE machines[2].

Paper-based Electronic Voting[edit]

The other commonly used electronic voting method uses paper ballot as usual, but counts those ballots electronically. This method won't be covered in great detail, but is important because it is a sort of transitional state in the social transition to electronic voting. These are less vulnerable to attacks because there is guaranteed to be physical evidence to recount.

History of Electronic Voting Machines[edit]

The first DRE in America was the Video Voter machine used in two Illinois counties in 1975.[3] It is used through 1980 by numerous counties. Modern E-Voting took off around 1988 with systems like the Electrovote 2000 and the Microvote systems.[4]

Motivations for electronic voting[edit]

As of 2000, only 12.4% of voters used DREs.[5] The voting methods in place were simple paper ballots, punch card machine types, mechanical lever machines, and optical scan technology. Simple paper ballots are where the voter checks off a name and the vote is then hand-counted by poll workers. Punch cards are read and tallied by machine after the voter punches out their selection. Mechanical lever machines work by incrementing a counter for each candidate which is then recorded by poll workers. Finally optical scan voting machines also automatically read paper ballots, but unlike punch card machines, optical scan reads bubbled, checked or X's marks written on ballots. These voting types were still in use in the 2000 Presidential Election which served to highlight many of their problems.

For more detailed background info on the voting types: Wikipedia page on Voting Machines

2000 Presidential Election[edit]

Main page: 2000 Presidential Election

The 2000 Presidential Election between Governor Bush of Texas and Vice-President Al Gore was one of the nation’s closest and most controversial elections. At the end of the voting day, Florida had not yet declared a winner for the state. Without Florida, neither candidate had the requisite 270 Electoral votes to be declared president. The month that followed had numerous recounts, each with a different vote total. Ultimately the election was decided in the Supreme Court in the case of Bush v. Gore where the ruling said that the recounts were done and therefore Bush had won the election based on the most recent recount with a margin of victory of 537. The questions that many were asking after the election are: 'Why did the recounts take so long?' and 'why did they yield different results?'[6]

Problems in the Florida Election[edit]

Main page: United States presidential election in Florida, 2000
Butterfly Ballot

There were two major problems in Florida during the 2000 election: hanging chads and the butterfly ballot. Hanging chads occurred during punch-card style voting if the voter did not completely remove the tab when making their selection. The remaining tab sometimes caused the vote to go uncounted in the machine that tallied the votes. Another reported problem was the butterfly ballot, a punch card design which featured candidates on both sides of the punch holes. The problem was when voters tried to vote for the candidate second down on the left side, they instead voted for the first candidate down on the right side. These problems and others led to invalidated votes due to "no-voting" (no candidate selected) and "over-voting" (multiple candidates selected). In the 2000 election, 111,000 votes were not counted in Florida due to "over-voting" alone.[7] These problems caused voter frustration much of which was aimed at the voting systems in place. This public opinion led to election reform bills and the huge increase in the usage of DREs over the coming years.

[These problems served] to disenfranchise voters in some communities, and that this feeling of disenfranchisement had led some to question whether the promises of democracy existed for them at all.

—Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida[6]

The increased use of DREs[edit]

The public opinion of paper-based voting systems after the 2000 election led to election reform nationwide. Two specific examples are the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001 [8] which passed with only 2 out of 160 Florida legislators against the bill [6] and the nationwide Help Americans Vote Act of 2002.[9] To meet the requirements of these acts, many precincts chose to use DREs as their new voting systems. In 2002, 22% of voters used DREs, and by 2004, this number had risen to 29%.[5]


Voter Verification[edit]

In an effort to allay many of the transparency concerns with DREs, there has been a push to implement additional ways for voters to verify that their vote is recorded correctly. The HAVA requires that all voting systems allow voters to independently verify that their ballot contains their correct choices before it is cast and be able to correct the ballot should they notice an inconsistency.[10] Such systems are usually referred to as a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail. To implement a VVPAT on a DRE, a printer is attached to the voting machine that prints out a voter’s selections, which the voter then verifies. This paper ballot is kept with the voting machine to allow DRE results to be audited or for use in a recount, if necessary. Many groups, such as the Verified Voting Foundation[11] and Common Cause,[12] and experts such as Rebecca Mercuri, PhD;[13] Peter G. Neumman, PhD; [14] and Dan S. Wallach, PhD,[15] support VVPAT systems as they feel it addresses the concern that DREs will record votes incorrectly. Despite such widespread support, there are still some issues. Research[16] has shown that many voters do not review their votes or don't recognize when their selections are changed. Another argument made by the American Association of People with Disabilities[17] and Michael Shamos, PhD, JD[18], among others, against VVPAT systems is that the paper ballots cannot be easily be read by disabled voters. This means that disabled voters must either forgo verifying their vote and risk their ballot not reflecting their wishes, or seek assistance from poll workers to verify their vote, which removes the secrecy from their ballot.


Because DREs are special-use computers, much of the existing body of technology used to provide accessibility to computer systems can easily be adapted for use with these voting systems. These accessories can include headphones and Braille inputs for the visually disabled and sip-and-puff "wands" for the physically disabled. (See the Wikipedia entry on Assistive Technologies for a more complete list.) If voting machines are made fully accessible, then disabled individuals would be able to vote completely without any assistance, ensuring them the ability to have a secret ballot. It is because of these potential benefits that many groups and individuals, such as Jim Dickson, Vice President of Government Affairs for the AAPD[19] have expressed their support for the adoption of accessible voting systems in all polling places, as required by the HAVA.[10] Despite this response to accessible DREs, support has not been unanimous. Groups such as the Silicon Valley Council of the Blind have expressed disappointment in the level of accessibility of these voting systems.[20] Individuals such as Aleda Devies, a handicapped voter, don't believe enough is being done to provide accessibility and object to voting machines providing only limited accessibility features:

It is not acceptable to accommodate some members of the disabled population and expect the rest of us to live with “business as usual.” That is discrimination, which is not legal. Accommodating people with different disabilities requires great flexibility in a voting system. What works for and is preferred by certain members of the blind and visually impaired community does not accommodate people with mobility or motor impairments.

—Aleda Devies[21]


One of the largest issues concerning electronic voting is security. There have been many highly publicized events highlighting security problems with DREs that have helped shape a negative public opinion of electronic voting. In 2006, a group from Princeton University released the results of a study describing the many security flaws they found in a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting system.[22] The research also pointed out how quickly and easily malicious programs could be installed on the machines. Also in 2006, the HBO documentary “Hacking Democracy” was released. This documentary followed many of the problems voters had with electronic voting systems during the 2000 and 2004 US elections, as well as highlighted many of the security issues with the voting machines. In an attempt to reduce the number of security concerns with DREs, many groups[18][23][24] support the effort to get voting machine manufacturers to release their source code to the public. By open sourcing (see Open-Source Movement) the code, experts and other third parties could review the voting system to find and fix any security issues they discover. Some of the opponents to this open-sourcing, such as the Election Technology Council[25] argue that doing so would provide criminals with additional information with which they could devise more devious and effective attacks on the voting system. Another large group for keeping the code closed-source are the electronic voting system manufacturers. These companies have devoted large amounts of money and time to developing their intellectual property and don't want to release it to the public for free.

DRE voting machines obviously have significant weaknesses given appropriate physical access; preventing tamperers from gaining physical access to voting machines is one main way to ensure the security of voting. This is largely a social issue that lacks a clear technological solution. Bribery of officials is a serious issue, as illustrated in a 1998 Microvote scandal in North Carolina,[26] which threatens the security of the voting process. Without a comprehensive sociopolitical solution to ensuring the legitimacy of election workers and officials, it is extremely difficult for a technological solution to perform adequately.

Problems with DREs[edit]

As mentioned above, there was an increase in the use of DREs in the early 2000s; there were also problems with this implementation. One example is seen in the 2006 elections where iVotronic voting machines in Sarasota County, Florida lost over 18,000 votes, potentially impacting results of some races (one margin of victory was just 400 votes).[27] Security problems with Diebold voting systems ultimately led California to ban the use of DREs.[28] The use of DREs dropped from 2006 to 2008 from 37.6% to 32.6% [5]

We're trusting the fate of our democracy to technology that's not ready yet.

—Tadayoshi Kohno, computer security expert, University of San Diego in California[29]

Moral taught by DREs[edit]

Over the course of less than 10 years, DREs went from rapidly increasing to sharply decreasing in use. The poor implementation by the voting manufacturers and government point toward an underlying lack of maturity in the technology. The moral DREs can teach us is that applying a technology before it is ready can lead to its downfall.

For technologies facing similar issues, read about Air Travel Security and Corn Ethanol


  1. VerifiedVoting.org. VerifiedVoting.org Mission and Team. http://verifiedvoting.org/article.php?id=5617
  2. Kohno, Tadayoshi; Stubblefield, Adam; Rubin, Aviel; & Wallach, Dan;. (2004) Analysis of an Electronic Voting Machine
  3. McKay, R. H., Ziebold, P. G., Kirby, J. D., Hetzel, D. R., & Snydacker, J. U. (1974). U.S. Patent No. 3,793,505. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. http://www.wikipatents.com/US-Patent-3793505/electronic-voting-machine/Page-1
  4. http://www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/voting/pictures/
  5. a b c Brace, Kimball Nation Sees Drop in Use of Electronic Voting Equipment for 2008 Election – A First Election Data Services. 10/17/08
  6. a b c Bush, Jeb. Election Reform in Florida: Meeting the Challenge. Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy. 1:3:311-314, 2002.
  7. Overvoting and representation: an examination of overvoted presidential ballots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties M. C. Herron and J. S. Sekhon. Electoral Studies: 22:1:21-47. 2003.
  8. Florida Election Reform Act of 2001 Florida State Senate Bill: sb1118er
  9. Pub.L. 107-252
  10. a b Pub.L. 107-252 SEC.301.
  11. Verified Voting Foundation. Disability Access to Voting Systems. http://verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=1875
  12. Electronic Voting Machines FAQs http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4878053#What_is_Common_Cause_s_position_on_the__paper_trail__issue Electronic Voting Machines FAQs
  13. Mercuri R. (2004) Facts About Voter Verified Paper Ballots. http://www.notablesoftware.com/Papers/VVPBFacts.pdf
  14. Neumann, P. (2004) Notes for a Hearing of the California Assembly Committee on Elections Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments http://www.csl.sri.com/users/neumann/calvot04.pdf 6/15/2004.
  15. Wallach D. (2004) Testimony for the Ohio Joint Committee on Ballot Security http://www.cs.rice.edu/~dwallach/pub/dwallach-ohio-18march2004.pdf 4/18/2004.
  16. Everett, S.P. (2007). The Usability of Electronic Voting Machines and How Votes Can Be Changed Without Detection. Doctoral dissertation, Rice University, Houston, TX. http://chil.rice.edu/alumni/petersos/EverettDissertation.pdf
  17. American Association of People with Disabilities. AAPD Policy Statement on Voter Verified Paper Ballots. http://www.acb.org/alaska/summer2003.htm
  18. a b Shamos, M. (2004) Paper v. Electronic Voting Records - An Assessment. http://euro.ecom.cmu.edu/people/faculty/mshamos/paper.htm
  19. Dickson, J. (2004) Election Assistance Commission Public Hearing on the Use, Security, and Reliability of Computerized voting Systems. http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/testimony%20jim%20dickson%20american%20association%20of%20people%20with%20disabilities%20public%20meeting%20may%205%202004.pdf 5/5/2004.
  20. Ackerman, E. (2004) Blind Voters Rip E-Machines. Mercury News. http://www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=2102 5/15/2004.
  21. Devies, A. (2005) Touch Screens Are Not The Best Choice For Disabled Voters. Daytona Beach News-Journal. http://www.votersunite.org/article.asp?id=5588 6/22/2005.
  22. Feldman, A., Halderman, A., Felten, E. (2006) Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine http://itpolicy.princeton.edu/voting/ 9/13/2006.
  23. The Commission on Federal Election Reform. (2005) Building Confidence in U.S. Elections. http://www1.american.edu/ia/cfer/report/full_report.pdf September 2005.
  24. RABA Innovative Solution Cell. (2004) Trust Agent Report: Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting System. http://euro.ecom.cmu.edu/program/courses/tcr17-803/TA_Report_AccuVote.pdf 1/20/2004.
  25. Election Technology Council. ETC Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.electiontech.org/documents/ETCFrequentlyAskedQuestionsFinalDraft.pdf
  26. http://www.ncvoter.net/briberyNC.html
  27. Zetter, Kim. Did Florida Foul Another Ballot?. 11/16/2006
  28. Zetter, Kim. California Bans E-Vote Machines 4/30/04
  29. Lovgren, S. (2004) Are Electronic Voting Machines Reliable. National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/11/1101_041101_election_voting.html November 1, 2004.