Opening a Can of Electronic Chad

By: Bill Sterner
with Carol Schiffler

It is astonishing that, after the Election 2000 debacle of November 7th, the Hillsborough County Election Supervisor, Pam Iorio, is seeking to replace the old punch card voting machines with touch screen devices that have no paper trail. At a recent product demonstration, three machines were reviewed. Not one of these machines produced a paper trail, even though touch screen devices with paper print outs for auditing are readily available. These are the three devices that the state of Florida is getting ready to certify.

With no way to audit the validity of the votes cast through the touch screen, the possibilities for election fraud are endless. The level of programming expertise necessary to modify the computer to produce desired results for a technician's favorite candidate is entry-level at best. Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist who recently completed a Ph.D. dissertation on "Electronic Vote Tabulation Checks & Balances," states that, "It is essential to elections that there be an alternative method for independently verifying that the votes cast correspond to the totals reported. Since I (as well as many 12-year-olds) can write programs that accept one input value, record a different one and report yet another, computer systems can be no more trusted to provide their own verification than can a fox guarding the hen house." Another expert on election security, Dr. Peter G. Neumann, the principal scientist at the Computer Science Lab at SRI International in Menlo Park and chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Committee on Computers describes touch-screen systems as "disasters waiting to happen -- with enormous opportunities for fraud and accidents that are very difficult to detect and almost impossible to rectify."

Ask any accountant or auditor how they would feel if someone submitted their total income and expenses with no paper trail to back up their assertions. I do not think that they would accept the excuse, "Well that's what my computer said," as proof of financial status. Ask anyone who programs or tests computers how easy it would be to write a program which discards every tenth vote in a heavily Democratic precinct, (or a heavily Republican precinct for that matter). More importantly, ask yourself how secure you will feel going into a polling place on election day and punching your vote onto a touch screen computer, knowing that there is no way for election personnel to go back and check to see if the vote you entered was recorded properly by the system.

The computer programs used to tabulate votes are kept secret. You cannot look at them, and neither can I. But election officials have access. And if even one of them was a bit handy with technology, and a bit unscrupulous, who would know?

Contact Pam Iorio and ask her to choose wisely:

County Center - 16th Floor · 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. · Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 272-5850 · fax(813) 272-7043 ·