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National NOW Times >> Fall 2004 >> Article

Electronic Voting Poses Problems

by Casey Shevin, NOW Government Relations Intern

The Nation magazine reported that approximately five out of six people who go to the polls Nov. 2 will cast their vote for president using computerized systems proven unreliable during previous elections.

Without a reliable paper trail to count the vote, abuses would go undocumented. As a result, in the presidential election we face the likelihood that three out of every ten votes will be unrecoverable in the event a recount is needed.

The Need for a Paper Trail

The Diebold electronic voting systems used in California's March 2 elections malfunctioned in San Diego and Sacramento counties, causing the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters.

After polls closed, signatures on voter rolls in at least one precinct in San Diego County did not match the number of ballots recorded by the machines. One voter said she was allowed to cast a second ballot after the computer spit out her activation card while she weighed her choices, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

The day after elections, officials told the Union Tribune that at least 250 of the 1,611 precincts had not opened by 7:30 a.m. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of voters were turned away due to machine malfunctions. Some were advised to return later, but that was impractical for many voters.

Plaintiffs in a case pending in Sacramento County Supreme Court seek to build more security into voting machines after poll workers had to turn away voters because machines were not working properly. After the debacle of March elections, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley required 23 safety measures to protect the validity of votes. One measure requires counties to provide voters with the option of using a paper ballot, where electronic machines are in place. However, many voters in California and elsewhere will not know of the option to use a paper ballot. In any case, Shelley's requirements are under court attack.

The Kerry campaign's call for a paper trail to verify the votes met overwhelming resistance from Republicans. The toughest resistance comes from Florida, home of the 2000 voting catastrophe. Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Glenda Hood expressed unwavering confidence in electronic voting systems and called a paper trail "unnecessary."

In the case of a close election, manufacturers of voting machines and election officials will likely attempt to convince the public that a second printout of the vote tally proves 100 percent accuracy without a voter-verified paper trail. However, the chance exists that if the machine tallied votes incorrectly the first time, a second printout would include the same inaccuracies. To allay any fears that inaccuracies exists, a paper trail is necessary to validate vote tallies.

Election Problems Plague States

Mass chaos resulted when voters in Georgia received ballots for the incorrect party or district because of computer failures. The disorganization caused many voters to leave polls without voting, according to the Savannah Morning-News.

The Associated Press reported that the loss of September 2002 gubernatorial election results in Florida, caused by a crash of electronic voting machines, was kept a secret until a citizen-led coalition conducting a study of election results requested the data.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman was announced to have won the state of Alabama. However, the next morning 6,300 of his votes disappeared and Bob Riley was announced as the new governor, according to the Associated Press. Siegelman requested a recount, but was denied.

The Maryland Board of Elections ruled that paper ballots cast during the March 2004 primary by citizens opting out of electronic voting would not be counted towards the primary results. The case is currently pending a board of elections decision.

As a result of concerns about tampering with electronic voting machines, several states such as Alaska, Ohio and Nevada pledged to establish a verifiable paper trail or not to use electronic voting methods at all.

Unfair ID Requirements

Another surprise waiting at the polls for registered voters will be voter ID laws, effective in 14 states. Republicans reportedly support ID requirement laws in order to prevent fraud at the polls. Most Democrats say such requirements disenfranchise many low-income voters unable to show valid ID or utility bills, and may be designed to intimidate immigrants.

Eight states require voters to show photo ID before voting, including key states such as Arkansas, Michigan, Virginia, Georgia and Louisiana.

Photo ID requirements also limit voting for many Native American communities, because many do not have the required photo ID. Such disenfranchisement already happened. In the South Dakota June primary, poll workers failed to inform Native American voters of their right to sign an affidavit in lieu of showing ID.

Intimidating Would-Be Voters

Voter intimidation has become a theme of recent elections. Florida officials, conducting a so-called investigation of the voter-purge problem, interviewed mainly older African-Americans (who typically vote Democratic) participating in get-out-the-vote campaigns. Those questioned reported to The New York Times that the investigation seemed more like an official reprimand.

The Feminist Majority Foundation reported that students in Arizona, working in conjunction with their Get Out HER Vote campaign, received erroneous information about voter eligibility in their state. A spokesperson from the Pima County Registrar's Office in Arizona wrongly stated on Fox News that out-of-state students who do not plan on staying in Arizona after graduation were not eligible to register and vote.

The U.S. Supreme Court expressly ruled that college communities must allow students to register and vote where they go to school. In addition, the Voting Rights Act amendments of 1970 specifically prohibits states from establishing "durational residency" requirements, meaning the student cannot be required to demonstrate an intent to remain in the state after graduating.

Young voters comprise one of the largest voting demographics. The tendency of college students to vote for progressive candidates can affect the outcome of elections in swing states like Ohio that has large universities like Ohio State University and Kent State University within its borders.

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