Debate over Georgia’s paperless e-voting process continues

Georgia’s paperless electronic voting process and systems in five other states have gained the attention of an election watchdog group. In a ComputerWorld article on e-voting, the Verified Voting Foundation says states relying on paperless machines will have a hard time auditing the results, which, the group says, are vulnerable to tampering.

Voter-marked paper ballots that are scanned and tallied by electronic systems, along with paper copies of electronically cast votes, together give election officials a reliable way to verify the accuracy of tallies,  [said the watdog group's president, Pamela Smith]. “Paper enables the properties of recounting that we need right now,” Smith said.

But Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems, says Georgia’s system is safe and disputes the watchdog group’s concerns. CES is a venture between Georgia’s secretary of state’s office and Kennesaw State University.

“I think the notion that electronic systems are not auditable would come as a shock to every accounting firm, every auditing firm, the federal government, the airline industry and all who have paperless systems,” King said. “The notion that paper equals auditability is old-fashioned at best and ill-informed overall.”

Most election fraud has historically happened with paper ballots, which even today is more prevalent with mail-in absentee ballots, he said.

10 comments Add your comment


October 29th, 2010
3:17 pm

While it IS possible to design some types of paperless systems that CAN be audited, the voting machines in use by the State of Georgia are NOT. At least not in the way that most people would think of a system being auditable. For example, your ATM machine transactions CAN be audited — but they are also attributable. That means that in some way your identity is tied to the transaction details. For voting, at least with a secret ballot, this CAN NOT be done and makes the design of any audit system much more difficult. In fact with such a constraint having a paper record of all the votes cast is probably one of the easiest, safest, cheapest, and most easily understood and verified methods of auditing votes cast. There are advantages to the direct recording electronic voting machines, but they are a great risk to democracy in the way they are currently used.


October 29th, 2010
3:30 pm

Vote fraud is a venerable American institution. At the beginning of the 20th century, officials changed to mechanical voting machines to reduce the fraud with paper ballots. But as it turned out, that merely centralized the fraud and made it harder to see. The voting machines are stored at a central location, a skilled mechanic can easily rig a machine, and poll watchers cannot see the fraud.

It is hard to believe that anyone who has ever used a computer would trust electronic voting. No one in the state of Georgia can honestly verify an electronic election. Computer programs contain, what, millions of lines of code? A lot of them, anyhow. A programmer cannot read his own code after six months unless he has kept extensive notes. It only takes a couple of lines of code to rig an election, and it is almost impossible to find it.

How do you test for something like that? I have never heard anyone suggest that the code is scrutinized line by line. My understaning is that the machines are merely tested under various conditions. I cannot imagine that the exhaustive testing necessary is being done, or even could be done. The code can be set to function flawlessly in all tests, to rig the election, and then to erase itself.

But suppose the code has been tested. Now there must be a rigorous chain of accountability for the machine from certification point to polling station. If a machine spends any time in a non-secure location, the certification has been compromised. Any repair work nullifies the certification. In most machines, the programming is done on replaceable cards. When a machine malfunctions during a test or an election, the standard repair is to replace the card. So the cards as well as the machines must be certified. No one does that. A machine malfunctions; election officials are frantic to get the election done; a technician whom nobody knows comes in and does some mysterious repair; and officals are completely satisfied if the machine produces a result which looks reasonable.

40 years ago, I served aboard nuclear missile submarines. I know how hard it is to get even professionally trained people to observe proper security. The entire public debate about voting machines shows clearly that no one involved in the process, at any level of any part of it, has any idea of the issues involved.

The precincts should be small enough that paper ballots can be put into a transparent box which remains at all times in full view of voters. Those votes should be counted in full view of voters, and the results posted publicly. Voters can then check the precinct totals against county totals. This assumes a certain degree of ordered discipline at the local level- thugs cannot take control of the polling place, for example. But if we do not meet that criterion, self-government has failed in any event.

The important thing is to count the votes right, not fast. The push for speed comes from the news media, with their deadlines. Indeed, the news media is really responsible for tabulating our votes. The official certification by the Secretary of State, which comes weeks later and sometimes not at all, is a mere formality.


October 29th, 2010
4:05 pm

should have paper ballots also


October 29th, 2010
7:46 pm

It would help if the manufacturer of the Ga machine had not boasted that he could rig the machines to make any outcome he wanted. since I read that, I have been pushing for a paper back up.

june bug

October 30th, 2010
5:07 am

Our Sec. of State signed this contract with no over sieght. If a machine fails an employee of the company must be brought in. They can change the memory card to whatever results they wish.

No one empoyed by the state of Georgia knows anything about these machines..

Ed Stavaganza

October 30th, 2010
8:11 am

The old booths with the switches and the big lever that cast the ballot worked just as fast to me! Bring those back!

Just the Facts

October 30th, 2010
8:18 am

The Verified Voting Foundation wants you to spend another $60,000,000.00 on another imperfect system. The current Georgia system uses approximately 9000 DRE units that are not networked. Each unit prints a total for that machine.

You Can Tell By The Smell

October 30th, 2010
11:24 am

People in both parties have been rigging elections since voting began. In some cases it is voting dead people. In others it is buying votes and in yet others ity is rigging machines to obtain a dishonest outcome. I agree that the paper ballot is hardest to rig but even that can be done. We vote by absentee ballot hoping that our votes will be counted exactly as we cast them but who knows. Some folks will do anything to win an election even if it means stealing it by foul means. I personally believe that vote stealing or machine rigging should be a capital offense and the perpetrators should be hanged on the courthouse lawn 30 minutes after conviction. Make that an hour so the crowd watching would be larger. Stealing a person’s vote to win an election that would have had a different result with an honest count takes away our right to choose our leaders and makes us little more than slaves to a corrupt dictatorial system.


October 30th, 2010
2:44 pm

The problem with these machines is that the results reported by the voting machines cannot be verified. If there is a glitch (bad ballot design, fraud, etc.) there is no way to compare the reported results to the ballots cast by the voters. Nobody knows if the results are correct — not even the people who run the elections.

The ballots cannot be recounted.

There is no way to check that the ballots cast by the voters is the same as the results reported by the voting machines. The lack of verifiability is a huge incentive for fraud. All it takes is one person to hack a machine to alter the election results and there is no way to prove the results are correct or are hacked. Choosing to buy these voting machines was a really bad decision.

Frank H

October 30th, 2010
6:32 pm

I would recommend that each county put online the voting machine audit logs within 48 hours after the election. That way the voters can see how the machines really performed.As an example of how the audit logs look , check out the link and go down the page about halfway.–june-8-2010-primary.html