Voting - What Is, What Could Be (2001)
Report No.:  1
Date Published:  2001-07-01


Voting Technology Project


On December 15, 2000, the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a collaborative project to develop new voting technology in order "to precent a recurrence of the problems that threatened the 2000 presidential election." The problems in the 2000 election go well beyond voting equipment. This report assesses the magnitude of the problems, their root causes, and how technology can reduce them. We call for a new architecture for voting technology that is tailored to the communication and computing technologies that have revolutionized our society. We also see a new system of continual innovation that can be supported by the federal government.

What Is

Our data show that between 4 and 6 million votes were lost in the 2000 election. Our analysis of the reliability of existing voting technologies and election systems shows that the U.S. can substantially reduce the number of lost votes by immediately taking the following steps:

  • Upgrade voting technologies. Replace punch cards and lever machines with optical scanners. We estimate 1.5 million of these lost votes can be recovered with this step.
  • Improve voter registration systems. We recommend improved database management, installing technological links to registration databases from polling places, and use of provisional ballots. We estimate this could save another 3 million lost votes. Aggressive use of provisional ballots alone might substantially reduce the number of votes lost due to registration problems.

What Could Be

In the long term, the voting equipment industry will develop new technologies. Our report includes the following recommendations to ensure that the best available technologies are developed by this industry:

  • We call for a new architecture for voting technology. This architecture will allow for greater security of electronic voting. It will allow for rapid improvement and deployment of user interfaces--that is, better ballots. It is a framework within which we can explode several myths about electronic voting.
  • There must be significant investment by the federal government in research and development of voting equipment technologies and the meaningful human testing of machines.
  • The federal government should establish an independent agency to oversee testing and to collect and distribute information on the performance and cost of equipment.


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