The recent GAO report on electronic voting has a great figure in it that is very important in the ongoing discussions about e-voting. Figure 1 on page 7 of the report notes that elections are a multi-stage process starting with (1) voter registration, then (2) early and absentee voting, (3) election administration/vote casting, and (4) vote counting and certification.
At each point, an election process–one of the four items noted above–is affected by two interactions. First, there is a human interaction, when people–voters, election officials, observers, and third-parties–enter the process. Second, there is a technological interaction–with voter rolls, ballots, and ballot counting systems (human or mechanical). As Mike noted in his blog from yesterday and on Saturday from Argentina, the legal and cultural norms of a community also interact here as well, but the GAO focuses on the human, technological, and process interactions.
It is this interaction that makes elections complex and difficult to make perfect. As election reforms are proposed–from expanded absentee voting to paper trails and vote centers–it is important to consider how each change affects both the technological, process, and human complexities in elections. Reforms that ease the stress on any given point in the system–for example, by spreading voting out over multiple voting channels (early, absentee, precincts), allowing for voter registration problems to be addressed easily (e.g., election day registration), and improving vote counting and canvassing (e.g., manditory post-election auditing) may be reforms that make elections less problematic in the long-term.