for National Geographic News
Determined to avoid the fiasco of the 2000 U.S. presidential racewith its dimpled ballots and hanging chadselection officials around the country looked to new technology for tomorrow's U.S. presidential vote.
Many states have switched from paper ballots to high-tech, ATM-like electronic voting machines. State election officials expect touch screens to prove more reliable than older systems' punch cards.
But are these largely untested machines really secure?
For months now, computer experts have criticized the electronic voting machines, saying they are not much more reliable than home computers. Experts worry that hackers, software bugs, badly trained poll workers, or power outages could intentionally or accidentally erase or alter voting data captured by the new machines.
Critics maintain that, in the event of a close election, a recount would be impossible on machines that keep no paper record of votes cast.
"We're trusting the fate of our democracy to technology that's not ready yet," said Tadayoshi Kohno, a computer security expert at the University of San Diego in California.
Almost two million ballots were disqualified in the 2000 election because they registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines.
As a result of the confusion in 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to help buy improved voting equipment and to train poll workers and election officials across the country.
While only 10 percent of voters cast their ballots electronically in 2000, almost a third of U.S. voters in tomorrow's election are expected to use electronic voting machines.
But studies have shown that electronic voting machines are less reliable than paper ballots in accurately counting votes. The Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project, a study group set up to analyze elections dating back to 1988, found that old-fashioned lever machines were actually more accurate than electronic voting machines.