What is Electronic Voting?

Today, as I drove to get a Starbucks coffee, NPR did their mid-show news headlines and they mentioned issues with tests of electronic voting machines in Michigan that were done in preparation for the primary on Tuesday. But the story talked about ballots getting jammed in the machines, which made me realize that they were talking about issues with both DREs and electronic tabulators for optical scan ballots.

The media has a tendency to confligrate these two technologies–and even mention electronic poll books as “electronic voting.” (Mike and I found this in our research for our book on electronic voting that will come out next year from Princeton University Press). Everything with power running through it is often called electronic voting, even though there are very different issues associated with these different technologies.

In Michigan, the testing of the equipment has shown problems, which is why both pre-election testing and post-election auditing are so important. This Associated Press article details the different problems that have arisen.

New touch-screen voting machines to help disabled people are failing in test runs ahead of next week’s primary, Ingham County’s top election official said Thursday. Clerk Mike Bryanton said the faulty equipment — which can be used by all voters — could cause longer lines during Tuesday’s primary. But he stressed all ballots would be counted by hand if there are problems. [Note: Michigan has a VVPAT requirement so they can count the VVPATs.]

On Tuesday, voters in each of Michigan’s 5,216 precincts will be using an optical-scan ballot system, marking a standard ballot and then feeding it into an electronic tabulator. All polling sites will have new equipment for the disabled so they can vote in privacy without assistance….Bryanton warned of problems because humidity has swollen up test ballots, which then haven’t fit into the optical-scan tabulators. He also complained that Election Systems & Software, which the state paid $34 million for 4,300 of the touch-screen machines, has provided little training.

I would point out, by the way, that humidity is a problem nationally with paper ballots.

It would be helpful if the media could be clearer what they are referring to when they discuss electronic voting though.