Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Consumer Reports on voting machines

Yes, Consumer Reports -- some of us were given subscriptions to their defunct children's magazine Penny Power when we were kids -- now weighs in on the new voting machines.

Unfortunately, CR seems to buy the "reported problems appeared to be few and far between" line. There's another quote from the oft-quoted Doug Chapin, director of, "a nonprofit, non-partisan group that conducts research on voting issues," that the election went quite smoothly.

Reports of election incidents on, a Web site designed by groups critical of e-voting, showed on November 3, 2004 that more than 1,000 incidents labeled as "machine problems" had been called in by voters, including people from many e-voting precincts. Given that more than 114 million people voted, however, a minuscule number of machine problems were reported.

There's a nice quote from the Stanford computer scientist David Dill pointing out that, while nonelectronic ballots can be reviewed to determine whether machines accurately determined voter intent, there is no easy way to run such an audit with e-voting technology.

"We have to keep in mind," he said, "that recording a vote for the wrong candidate is something that doesn't show up in the statistics."

Cindy Cohn from the Electronic Frontier Foundation cited many troubling voting-machine incidents. "Reports ran the gamut from downed machines that exacerbated long lines to potential calibration problems with touch screens. 'We had a lot of people who said they would go through and vote for Kerry and when the screen came up it showed them voting for Bush,' Ms. Cohen said. She added that voters said they could correct the problem before casting their ballots."

Overall, nothing that we haven't already seen in those "everything went smoothly" stories that seemed much more frequent the first day or two after November 2 than they are now -- as clearly everything did not go smoothly.

I was hoping that Consumer Reports was going to test-drive and compare the ESS, Sequoia, and Diebold systems like they do Chevrolets and Toyotas. Or call for a recall.