scholars and rogues

E-voting screwup leads judge to void election results

By Martin Bosworth

As an amusing coda to my posts discussing the need for paper audit trails in electronic voting, and the industry’s opposition to same, here’s a look at what happens when you trust e-voting machines to handle a simple ballot initivative, and things go very wrong:

An Alameda County judge has voided election results for a failed 2004 Berkeley medical marijuana measure, ordering it returned to the ballot next year because county election officials failed to hand over data from voting machines, attorneys in the case said Thursday…In her ruling Tuesday, Smith said county officials had failed to retrieve backup data from electronic voting machines, logs of activity on the machines and other records as she had specifically ordered. Instead, the county ignored the request and returned the devices to their manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems, after the measure’s advocates had sued the county seeking access to the data, the judge said.

If there had been some kind of verifiable paper audit trail to use after the votes had been cast, this might not have happened. By retaining the audit records solely in electronic form on the machines, Diebold was able to eliminate the vast bulk of the vote records, necessitating a fresh start. While the bulk of culpability lies with the county election officials who undoubtedly returned the machines to Diebold to avoid revealing that the measure won, the fact remains that this data is all too easy to destroy, and we can’t trust any single source to maintain control over it. Democracy and the voting process are too important to entrust to avaricious companies, faulty technology, and corrupt officials.

More about this from Techdirt and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

4 replies »

  1. Jeez. Well, the good news here is that cases like this remove the discussion from the realm of the hypothetical. If you can’t execute on a little old vote like this, how significant is the risk when you’re talking about something the size of a general election?