Think More Technology Makes Elections More Reliable? Think Again

Voting is the heart of democracy, and voters must view the election process as trustworthy.  Our government is not representative if large numbers of citizens choose not to vote.

Technology is seen as the solution to all our problems in the 21st century.  Surprisingly, experience has shown that elections benefit from removing as much technology as possible from the process.  

Election Day is a long work day, run mostly by volunteers.  But when the polls close, the voting is done. Any unnecessary complication leads to mistakes, and that includes computer software, which is very hard to get right.  

South Carolina is one of only five states voting entirely on paperless direct recording electronic (DRE) computers with no auditable record except the data stored in computer memory.  While most Americans hand-mark paper ballots, our state does not.  

With limited time and resources for elections, the most elegant and effective system is the simplest.  Hand marked paper ballots lead to shorter lines at the polling place, giving more people the opportunity to vote.

Our aging DREs will soon be replaced, and the new system will be used for ten years or more.  There are voting systems that produce auditable paper records and do not rely on software that cannot be examined or tested.  South Carolina is likely to choose a new system this year, and we owe it to ourselves to make a good choice. Technology is not always the best answer.

Guest Blogger: Duncan Buell, NCR Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Storey Innovation Center