Do Electronic Voting Machines Accurately Capture Voter Intent?



PRO (yes)

Paul Boutin, former Senior Editor of Wired magazine, wrote in his June 2004 article "Is E-Voting Safe?":

"Touch-screen systems can reduce several common mistakes voters make in the booth. They provide immediate feedback on your vote, helping to ensure that you don't vote for too many candidates in a race, forget to vote on an issue, or enter an unintended vote because you misread the interface."

June 2004 - Paul Boutin 



The Congressional Research Service, in a Mar. 21, 2001 report for Congress titled "Voting Technologies in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress," stated:

"Unintended choices also cannot be prevented. However, how often they occur depends in part on the clarity of the ballot design and functioning of the voting equipment... Touchscreen electronic systems can potentially reduce the risk of unintended choice by allowing the voter to review a summary of the choices made before submitting the ballot...

Since DRE systems record each vote electronically as it is cast...voters cannot make ambiguous or unreadable choices."

Mar. 21, 2001 - Congressional Research Service 
Voting Technologies in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress (176KB)  



The Election Technology Council's "Statement of Principles," available at its website, described the following advantages of electronic voting systems:

"DRE systems take the ambiguity out of vote counting by eliminating ballot review problems like 'hanging' and 'pregnant' chad and errors like over votes or unintentional under votes. Voters using DRE systems are presented with ballot choices in highly readable and intuitive formats. Upon completion of voting, system generated ballot reviews allow voters to go back and fill in missing votes or correct mistakes - meaning fewer votes are cast in error."

July 2004 - Election Technology Council 



The Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force, commissioned by former California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, released a July 1, 2003 report titled "Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force Secretary of State's Report," which stated:

"The advantages of DRE systems include: no 'chad'; eliminating the possibility of an 'overvote' (or making more selections than permissible) and advising the voter of any 'undervote' (when a voter makes fewer than the maximum number of permissible selections in a contest);...eliminating marking devices which can result in questions of voter intent; and providing a review screen before a voter casts a ballot."

July 1, 2003 - Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force of the California Secretary of State 
Ad Hoc Touch Screen Task Force Secretary of State’s Report (435KB)  



The US Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a Feb. 8, 2008 report titled "Elections - Results of GAO's Testing of Voting Systems Used in Sarasota County in Florida's 13th Congressional District," presented the following:

"GAO conducted three tests on the iVotronic Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems in Sarasota County and these tests did not identify any problems. Based on its testing, GAO obtained increased assurance that the iVotronic DREs used in Sarasota County during the 2006 general election did not contribute to the large undervote in the Florida-13 contest...

Given the complex interaction of people, processes, and technology that must work effectively together to achieve a successful election, GAO acknowledges the possibility that the large undervote in Florida's 13th Congressional District race could have been caused by factors such as voters who intentionally undervoted, or voters who did not properly cast their ballots on the iVotronic DRE, potentially because of issues relating to interaction between voters and the ballot."

Feb. 8, 2008 - US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 
Elections - Results of GAO's Testing of Voting Systems Used in Sarasota County in Florida's 13th Congressional District (1.2MB)  



Election Systems & Software, Inc. (ES&S), in its "Voting Equipment" website section (accessed Oct. 17, 2008), offered the following:

"Voters securely cast their vote for each race and/or ballot proposition simply through the touch of the screen... To ensure voter intent and ballot correctness, the iVotronic prevents the voter from over-voting and alerts the voter of under-voted races... The iVotronic will not allow you to vote for more people than may be elected to any one office... After completing last ballot page, touch 'review' and carefully review the selection review screen."

Oct. 17, 2008 - Election Systems and Software, Inc. (ES&S) 



CON (no)

Ellen Theisen, MA, CEO of the Vote-PAD Company, writes in her 2005 report "Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections":

"The sensors in touch screen devices can be knocked out of alignment by shock and vibration that may occur during transport. Unless these sensors are realigned at the polling place prior to the start of voting, touch screen machines can misinterpret a voter's intent. For example, a voter might touch the part of the screen identified with candidate Jones, but candidate Smith's box would light up instead."

2005 - Ellen Theisen, MA 



The Congressional Research Service, in an Aug. 11, 2004 report for Congress titled "Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Legislation in the 108th Congress," offered the following:

"Voter verifiability refers to the capability of the voter to determine that his or her ballot is cast and counted as intended. No voting system currently in use in federal elections provides true voter verifiability...

With current DREs, a voter sees a representation of the choices made on a computer screen or ballot face, but cannot see what choices the machine actually records when the vote is cast. There is no independent record of the voter's choices that the machine totals can be checked against... Votes are recorded in more than one location inside the machine, which can protect against certain kinds of recording and counting problems, but these are not truly independent records."

Aug. 11, 2004 - Congressional Research Service 
Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Legislation in the 108th Congress (135KB)  



The New York Times in an Oct. 8, 2008 editorial titled "That's a Pretty Big Glitch," presented the following:

"In the early days of electronic voting, critics who warned that it was unreliable were dismissed as alarmist. Now it seems that hardly an election goes by without reports of serious vulnerabilities or malfunctions... voters report errors like vote flipping, in which the vote they cast for one candidate is recorded for another...

There is no time left between now and Election Day for states and localities to upgrade their machines or even to fix the vote-dropping software. All they can do is double-check their vote totals, audit their paper trails and be on the lookout for the next, as-yet-undiscovered computer glitch."

Oct. 8, 2008 - New York Times 



Michael Shamos, PhD, JD, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, examined the UniLect PATRIOT electronic voting system on behalf of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The results of his evaluation were delivered in his Apr. 2005 report UniLect Corporation PATRIOT Voting System: An Evaluation:

"Among the complaints received about the Patriot system is that the touchscreen does not function reliably. That is, when a voter touches the screen, the touch is not necessarily sensed, which results in the voter incorrectly believing that she has cast a vote. This behavior was observed during the examination, when sometimes multiple depressions did not result in the touch being sensed...A system that fails to recognize voter choices is not capable of absolute accuracy."

Apr. 2005 - Michael I. Shamos, PhD, JD 



Clive Thompson, Contributing Writer for the New York Times Magazine, in a Jan. 6, 2008 New York Times Magazine article titled "Can You Count on Voting Machines?," wrote:

"The specific model that Sarasota used was the iVotronic, by the company ES&S. According to the complaints, when voters tried to touch the screen for Jennings, the iVotronic wouldn't accept it, or would highlight Buchanan's name instead. When they got to the final pages of the ballot, where they reviewed their picks, the complainants said, the Jennings-Buchanan race was missing — even though they were sure they'd voted in it. The reports streamed in not merely from technophobic senior citizens but also from tech-savvy younger people, including a woman with a Ph.D. in computer science and a saleswoman who actually works for a firm that sells touch-screen devices. (Even Vern Buchanan's wife reported having trouble voting for her husband)...

[A] government audit (1.2MB) tried to test whether the machines had malfunctioned... Their report said they could find no flaws in the code that would lead to such a large undervote... Perfection isn't possible, of course; every voting system has flaws... The deep, ongoing consternation over touch-screen machines stems from something new: the unpredictability of computers. Computers do not merely produce errors; they produce errors of unforeseeable magnitude."

Jan. 6, 2008 - Clive Thompson 



The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), in a July 19, 2004 letter to Henry McMaster, Attorney General for the State of South Carolina, outline some examples of electronic voting machines not accurately capturing the intent of the voter:

"In Maryland (November 5, 2002), voters using Diebold DREs watched as they voted for the Republican candidate for governor and the 'X' appeared beside the name of the Democratic candidate...

In Dallas County, Texas (October 22, 2002), the Democrats said they received several dozen complaints from people who said that they selected a Democratic candidate but that their vote on an ES&S [Election Systems and Software] DRE appeared beside the name of a Republican on the screen. Some votes cast for Republicans were counted for Democrats...

In Fairfax County, Virginia (November 4, 2003), some voters using Advanced Voting Solutions DREs watched as the 'X' they put beside the name of a Republican School Board Member, Rita Thompson, dimmed out and moved to her Democratic [sic] opponent. Ms. Thompson complained and one machine was tested. Surprised officials watched as the machine subtracted approximately 1 out of 100 votes for Ms. Thompson."

July 19, 2004 - Electronic Frontier Foundation