On Nov. 5, voters in Boston stepped behind curtains and pulled levers on voting machines so old their manufacturer is out of business. When one of the 900-pound clunkers breaks down, city officials have to scavenge for parts. At the same time, millions of Georgia voters cast ballots using touchscreen technology, which, despite a few glitches, worked, and voting proceeded without much difficulty.
Two years after one of the most infamous elections in American history, state and local governments were still sorting out voting priorities. Although some jurisdictions clung to old ways, a number of jurisdictions plunged ahead and adopted new election technology. In November 2002, the results of those investments were on full display during the midterm elections for local, state and federal candidates.
In the 2000 election, most attention centered on Florida, where massive problems with punch card ballots led many county officials to scrap the old paper-based voting method and replace it primarily with touchscreen technology. Although a handful of the new machines malfunctioned in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, for the most part, voting by computer worked smoothly, according to county officials and media reports. Incorrectly calibrated machines and disabled computer screens were some problems reported by the press.
Touchscreen voting also took place for the first time in counties in California, Washington and Maryland. Six counties in Florida, California and Washington used Sequoia Voting Systems' touchscreen technology without having to marshal massive numbers of poll workers to help, according to Kathryn Ferguson, the firm's vice president. "Frankly, counties should expect it to be possible to conduct touchscreen elections without mobilizing thousands of people to prepare and activate the voting machines," she said.
Computerized voting was the most widespread in Georgia, which spent $54 million to equip its 159 counties with more than 22,000 touchscreen voting machines from Diebold Election Systems. State officials deemed the new machines a success: Polls opened on time, and more than 2 million voters used the devices to cast their ballots. "We're excited with how the election went using the new technology," said Michael Barnes, assistant director of elections for the Georgia Secretary of State's Office. "It went like a regular election."
Some problems occurred, however. Terminals crashed, voter access cards jammed, and in one instance, a touchscreen machine highlighted a Democratic candidate whenever voters selected a Republican, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Barnes said Georgia officials are confident the new system would provide a trustworthy audit trail for verifying the vote count if required. He compared Georgia's touchscreen machines with the old-fashioned lever systems -- used in Boston and hundreds of other jurisdictions in the country -- that rely on the turning of a metal wheel for physical evidence that votes have been cast. Those wheels don't always turn. "A number of times after an election, poll workers would open up the back of those machines and just see a bunch of zeroes where there should have been numbers showing how many votes were cast," he said.
But critics continue to express doubts about whether electronically cast ballots can be verified with the new technology. They point to the proprietary software used in the machines and the fact that no one can independently verify that ballots have been properly recorded, transmitted and tabulated.
Jim Adler, CEO of Votehere Inc., agrees that ballot verification is crucial. While pleased with how voting technology performed during the election, he cautioned that the real test will come if and when officials call for recounts to verify how electronic ballots were cast. "That's the issue with using technology to cast votes," he said. "Without a verification process that everybody trusts, e-voting will not mature." Adler added that because VoteHere's technology is patented, it can be scrutinized by independent experts. Other vendors use the technology in turnkey systems they sell to the