Last November, Americans returned to the polls for midterm elections. The partial replacement of the House of Representatives and the Senate not only brought the recomposition of the first legislative bodies but also it showed how the United States, under pressure from citizens, experts and parties, had to drive technological improvements in its various electronic voting systems.
The intricacy of the U.S. election automation starts, not from the technological complexity, but from the fact that each county of the 50 states of the nation, has the power to administer the elections. Because of this, currently there is room for more than three thousand opportunities for implementation of electronic voting, and to date almost all the variations from the manual and automated counting votes (mechanical, punch cards and optical drive) have been used, to fully technified elections.
The debacle of 2000 in Florida was the main incentive to aim at the renewal of the voting system. In that year, many errors in the counting of punch cards forced the recount of millions of votes, which delayed for various weeks the results and prompted the intervention of the United States Supreme Court. The process was that voters punch holes in cards to indicate their preferred candidates, then the ballots were processed by machines for counting votes, but in that event, many votes were not registered as they were not recognized by the readers, as many holes were left “hanging” and could not be read accurately.
Following these events, in 2002 the norm Help America Vote Act was approved (Voting Assistance Act), which ordered to improve electoral practices across the country promoting electronic voting.
In the recent elections several changes were patented, and among the most dramatic is New York, which after 50 years of using a system based on lever machines, they migrated to a mixed scheme. The voter may choose to use the manual voting ballots and optical scanning reader of his vote, or a touch screen machine vote. Previously, each candidate was assigned a lever, and voters entering the voting booth, pulled a handle to activate the computer and proceeded to pull the levers to mark their preferences.
Another advance was seen in Florida. In the State, the much questioned punch card system was abolished in all counties and decided to return to the old system of paper ballot and pencil, but the counting was automated, as each voter casted its ballot by an optical scanner that recorded the vote and was then transmitted an aggregation center. Some counties used touch-screen computers specifically for the disabled.
Although these two states and others like Texas and California discarded the antiquated machines used for decades, this nation still has a long way to catch up with more developed countries in the implementation of electronic voting. Clear examples go, because after several days, five seats in New York had not been allocated by the closeness of the results. However, this would not happen, if the software and hardware used allowed an accurate count, and also if they had machines that cast a proof of vote for subsequent audits.
The existence of a receipt of the ballot, currently exists, and Venezuela is the proof. In this country, next to the 100% automated voting, the machines print a voucher which is deposited in a traditional urn at the end of the process can be counted to compare the result with the one issued by the team. The audit is met later in 54% of polling stations, while in the U.S., activist groups pressure to allow in only 5%.
New York and Florida represent just two examples of the changes seen in recent U.S. elections, buoyed among other companies, Premier Elections Systems & Software andHartInterCivic. Although progress is substantial, the Voting Assistance Act requires more, and certainly in subsequent elections there will be changes that will strengthen electronic voting. This will rest in in the hands of government authorities that the country will stop systems that validate the speed of automation, but will also allow the security and transparency to come out as winners.