The New York Times | Editorial
Sunday 18 January 2004
The morning after the 2000 election, Americans woke up to a disturbing realization: our electoral system was too flawed
to say with certainty who had won. Three years later, things may actually be worse. If this year's presidential election
is at all close, there is every reason to believe that there will be another national trauma over who the rightful
winner is, this time compounded by troubling new questions about the reliability of electronic voting machines.
This is no way to run a democracy.
Americans are rightly proud of their system of government, and eager to share it with the rest of the world. But the key
principle behind it, that our leaders govern with the consent of the governed, requires a process that accurately
translates the people's votes into political power. Too often, the system falls short. Throughout this presidential
election year, we will be taking a close look at the mechanics of our democracy and highlighting aspects that cry out
for reform. Among the key issues:
An accurate count of the votes cast is the sine qua non of a democracy, but one that continues to elude us. As
now-discredited punch-card machines are being abandoned, there has been a shift to electronic voting machines with
serious reliability problems of their own. Many critics, including computer scientists, have been sounding the alarm:
through the efforts of a hacker on the outside or a malicious programmer on the inside, or through purely technical
errors, these machines could misreport the votes cast.
They are right to be concerned. There is a fast-growing list of elections in which electronic machines have demonstrably
failed, or produced dubious but uncheckable results. One of the most recent occurred, fittingly enough, in Palm Beach
and Broward Counties in Florida just this month. Touch-screen machines reported 137 blank ballots in a special election
for a state House seat where the margin of victory was 12 votes. The second-place finisher charged that faulty machines
might have cost him the election. "People do not go to the polls in a one-issue election and not vote," he said. But
since the machines produce no paper record, there was no way to check. It is little wonder that last month, Fortune
magazine named paperless voting its "worst technology" of 2003.
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