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Trouble with Touch Screens, Indeed

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Trouble with Touch Screens

Remember the moment some years ago when the CEOs of Big Tobacco were called before Congress to be sworn under oath and forced to testify about what they knew concerning the health effects english dissertation of their product? Today, there is another industry that could meet the same fate: the voting systems industry. This time, the products in question affect the health of our democracy.

The August broadcast of the HDNet program Dan Rather Reports raised serious questions as to whether United States voting systems companies have engaged in commercial fraud by knowingly marketing defective products to jurisdictions throughout the country. The piece was called The Trouble with Touch Screens.

There is a growing body of evidence across the country that electronic voting machines are unreliable for the counting and recording of our votes and constitute a direct threat to the integrity of our elections.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently commissioned the most comprehensive and independent review of such voting systems, and it reached the same conclusion.

Based on her review, Secretary Bowen announced in early August that she was withdrawing certification of electronic voting systems in California, except under limited circumstances. At Why Tuesday?, we interviewed Secretary Bowen on our vlog about this landmark decision. There is also strong evidence that these systems don’t meet the federal requirements of accessibility for voters with disabilities, but Secretary Bowen is allowing California counties to use one electronic voting machine per precinct because, in her words, “we don’t have anything better for disabled voters.”

But the Rather report goes even further. It demonstrates that Election Systems & Software, a voting machine company, may have shipped 15,000 or more potentially defective voting machines from a factory in the Philippines to the United States – and may have knowingly done so. It also demonstrates that the Sequoia voting systems company may have knowingly marketed defective paper for the printing of ballots in the 2000 election in Florida, despite warnings from its own employees that the defective paper could lead to an election disaster. Think hanging chads.

These are shocking revelations. They have led to a public call on Congress “to launch a full investigation into the increasing influence and control that private companies wage in the way we conduct our elections and to determine whether certain US voting systems companies have committed crimes under federal and state anti-fraud statutes which should be referred to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.”

The Rather report serves as a wake-up call to the nation of the dangers associated with the outsourcing of key election functions to private vendors. Whether it is the recording and counting of our votes, the maintenance of voter registration databases, or the process by which we audit and recount our elections when proprietary software is involved, we are increasingly losing public control of our public elections.

John Bonifaz is Legal Director of VoterAction and a member of the Why Tuesday? Advisory Board. Photo of touch screen voting machine via Avril Hodge on Flickr. A version of this piece was posted on TPMCafe.com as part of Why Tuesday?’s week-long guest blogging there.

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