In Georgia's 2002 senatorial election, Democratic incumbent Max Cleland was defeated by Republican Saxby Chambliss. Polls leading up to the election showed the incumbent in the lead, but he lost decisively.
According to someone who worked through the summer leading up to the election to prepare the Diebold voting machines for the election, there were constant problems with the hardware and software, and growing pressure as the "ship date," the election, drew near.
Apparently Diebold updated the software at least three times while he was there. Diebold and the state of Georgia deny this claim: they say the software was only updated once, and not at the last minute.
Now, anyone that works with software knows that you're almost equally likely to introduce a new bug when fixing an old one. Last minute changes before shipping your software to customers is generally a bad idea. If Georgia allowed Diebold to make last minute changes, which they deny, then citizens ought to take their business elsewhere.
Any changes to the software or hardware configurations of a voting system should be completed six months prior to its use in an election, to allow time to test, publicly inspect, and certify the code. Of course, election data such as candidates and ballot measures should be loaded as early as possible, to allow final integration testing.
Now, on to Nebraska, and the idea of counting your own votes. Senator Chuck Hagel, who used to run a company that electronically counts paper ballots, defeated challenger Charlie Matulka. As Adam says in his editorial, "Mr. Matulka, suspicious of Senator Hagel's ties to the voting machine company, demanded a hand recount of the paper ballots. Nebraska law did not allow it, he was informed. 'This is the stealing of our democracy,' he says."
Whether or not there was foul play in counting these votes -- there probably wasn't -- our democracy depends on the appearance of fairness. People who run companies that count our votes shouldn't be running for office unless they clearly separate themselves from these companies -- they should advocate laws that provide greater voter confidence. And they shouldn't be out there raising money prominently for a particular candidate or party, as Diebold's chief executive has done quite publicly.
A healthy democracy must avoid even the appearance of corruption. The Georgia and Nebraska elections fail this test. Once voting software is certified, it should not be changed — not eight times, not once. A backup voting method should be available, so if electronic machines fail or are compromised shortly before an election, they can be dropped.
Votes must be counted by people universally perceived as impartial. States should not buy machines from companies that have ties to political parties, and recent company executives should not be running for elections on those machines.
The idea of a backup voting method is one I strongly endorse, to avoid the pressure and potential for failure and corruption of last minute changes.
There is far too much evidence showing that electronic voting systems are corruptible, whether intentionally or not. As voters, we should insist that our votes are properly counted. As Super Tuesday arrives tomorrow, and as November draws closer and closer, I feel we're headed towards a disaster of a crisis of confidence. If you're a public official in charge of running elections for your county, you should be concerned about this.
Adam closes by quoting Tom Stoppard: "It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting."
Thanks, Adam, for your continued diligence on this critical subject.