Plan for election-day bugs, argues Thornburgh and Celeste

Dick Thornburgh and Richard Celeste, who co-chaired the recent National Academies of Sciences panel on e-voting, recently published an opinion piece, “Watch Out for Voting Day Bugs.” The central arguments from their op-ed bear repeating here.

First, the problem:

For many jurisdictions, the 2006 elections will see the first large-scale use of electronic voting systems. Many organizations have learned the hard way that deployment and use of new technologies on a large scale virtually guarantee big surprises and unintended consequences: sudden system crashes, corrupted data or painfully slow systems. The usual remedies are to develop, test and evaluate small-scale prototypes before committing to organization-wide upgrades in technology, and to keep both old and new systems running for a while so that failures in the new system do not paralyze operations.

Second, the solution:

That’s why we believe it will be essential this year that jurisdictions have backup and contingency plans that anticipate a wide range of possible failures in their electronic voting systems, including those that occur in the middle of the voting process on Election Day (or days).

And the conclusion:

Prudence and reasonable contingency planning should rule at this moment of truth for electronic voting, as election officials across the land work to retain public confidence in the face of new challenges.

By way of disclosure, I was a member of the same NAS panel, so it may come as no surprise I endorse the argument here. But dedicated readers of Election Updates also know that I’ve been arguing for some time now that election officials must do a better job with contingency planning and threat assessment.