Early this morning, a man in Pennsylvania went to the polls and tried to vote for Obama. Every time he tried, his electronic voting machine selected Romney. He caught this suspicious error on video on his smartphone, and promptly posted it to YouTube. Thankfully the machine seems to have been removed from service shortly afterwards. This error could have been a localized glitch – a problem with the touchscreen, for example – or, in the worst case, could be part of a more widespread error. No matter whether such an error stems from a deliberate hack or random mistake, it still has the potential to manipulate votes.
The move to electronic voting machines seems smart for several reasons – it provides near-instantaneous tallies, and eliminates the infamous ‘hanging chad’ that plagued the 2000 presidential election. However, this most recent irregularity reminds us that electronic voting machines may be more susceptible to manipulation than we’d like to think – and the stakes are much higher. While fraud with paper ballots is localized, accidental errors, malignant programming or hacking in electronic voting machines could affect votes across the country. An extensive report in this November’s edition of Harper’s magazine details the ways in which the electronic voting machine industry may have had some improper relations to voting regulations, and argues that these devices could be very easy to manipulate; for example, it cites a 2011 report from Argonne National Laboratory asserting “that anyone with $26 in parts and an eighth-grade science education would be able to manipulate the outcome of an election.” Clearly, there is room for improvement in voting machine regulation.
Of course, computer errors are not the only source of voting fraud. For a roundup of voting mishaps and mistakes, check the euphemistically-titled Washington Post roundup of Voter Irregularities.
But most importantly, go vote today! Your vote won't stand a chance at escaping any computer glitches if you never submit it.