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Sunday, March 14, 2004

E-voting boosts turnout

My thanks to Frank who drew my attention to this on a different forum. The website silicon.com reports that an e-voting trial in California achieved an unusual participation rate:

'Getting voters to the polls on a normal day isn't easy so it was encouraging to hear that the latest e-voting trial in California reported a breathtakingly large (virtual) turnout.

How breathtakingly large, you ask? Well, way over 100 per cent, thanks for asking.

After a quick check determined that Governor Jeb Bush was nowhere near a computer while the election was in progress, officials determined the bureaucratic boob was down to human error and not technology. Apparently the e-voting system uses codes to assign a voter to a particular precinct and some election workers had been mistakenly assigning voters to the wrong precinct - resulting in the higher than expected number of ballots in 21 voting precincts.

Meanwhile, other precincts experienced an unnaturally low turnout - possibly because their votes had been counted in other districts. However, it's unlikely the votes will be recast or recounted following the polling foul-up as the winners' margins are wide enough to factor in the erroneous voting and still come up with the same results. Which is a slightly worrying assumption to make considering the chaos which transpired at the last presidential election.'

Those who are looking to new technology as a solution to low turnouts need look no further. However, they would do well to reflect on the lessons from this particular experiment. It is insecure, open to abuse and difficult to administer. There is no paper trail to establish that votes cast reflect the preferences of their owners and the possibilty of impersonation is high. It may well be the future but for now we need to reflect on what we value the most - the sanctity and security of our democratic system or convenient media-friendly quick-fixes. I think politicians too need to think long and hard about why people do not vote. In my experience it is not the trip to the polling station that is off-putting but the choice facing people when they get there.

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