Pamela Smith, a longtime critic of electronic voting machines, is worried more about long lines on Tuesday, election day in the U.S.
Any kind of equipment breakdown in places like Pennsylvania and Virginia could cause problems, said Smith, president of Verified Voting, an advocacy group focused on improving voting systems. Those two states don't have polls open for early voting, and there has been a record number of new voter registrations in many parts of the country, particularly among Democrats energized by presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign.
[ For more on how technology is reshaping the race for the U.S. presidency, see InfoWorld's special report. ]
Several states have already reported long lines during early voting. "This is an election that will sort of stress-test the [election] systems," Smith said. "Any problem that's going to come up is going to be amplified."
Several states do not have adequate numbers of voting machines in place to back up malfunctioning equipment, Smith said. The problem will be most acute in states with touch-screen machines; in places with optical scan machines, voters can continue to cast ballots on paper if the scanning machine goes down.
In addition to having no early voting, Pennsylvania and Virginia do not require paper-trail backups with touch-screen electronic voting machines. Critics of e-voting say that without a paper trail, there's no way to audit the results of a touch-screen machine, often called DREs, or direct recording electronic machines.
Professor Alec Yasinsac, dean of the School of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of South Alabama, is keeping an eye on two states: Florida and Ohio. Both states have had tight elections for president in past years, and this year promises more of the same.
Florida, with its hanging chads on punch-card ballots during the 2000 election, was the inspiration for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation encouraging states to move to more modern voting technologies. Then, in 2006, in a tight race for Florida's 13th congressional seat, touch-screen voting machines didn't record a vote from more than 18,000 people who voted in other races.
Florida has since scrapped most of its touch-screen e-voting machines in favor of an optical scan system, in which voters mark paper ballots that are then scanned electronically. The state still has touch-screen machines for voters with disabilities, and it doesn't require paper-trail backups on those machines.
Ohio has also faced problems with e-voting machines, both during the 2004 presidential election and during a primary election earlier this year, when e-voting machines dropped hundreds of votes in several counties.
Since the 2006 general election, four Ohio counties have switched from touch-screen machines to optical scan systems. Voters in Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous county, will be casting ballots on their third voting system in the past three general elections, going from punch cards in 2004 to touch-screen machines in 2006 to optical-scan systems this year. During pre-voting, some voting locations have changed as well.