Voters prefer low-tech methods

A nationwide study on U.S. voting systems finds that long-used methods of casting votes, such as paper ballots, optical scanning devices and lever machines, are more dependable than electronic means like punch card and cash-machine-like systems.

The new study from the California Institute of Technology/Massachusetts Institute of Technology Voting Project focuses on the number of under votes and over votes, which comprise a category of votes called residual votes. These ballots include ones that have votes for more than one candidate, with no vote at all, or ones that are marked in such a fashion that they cannot be counted.

According to the study, paper ballots, optical scanning devices and lever machines create a residual vote percentage of about two per cent. More technology-intensive voting systems, such as punch cards and ATM (automatic teller machine)-like systems have a three per cent residual vote count, the study found.

Talking with people who are knowledgeable about voting has led to the conclusion that the comfort level with technology has something to do with the slightly higher residual vote count, said Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at MIT, who is part of approximately a dozen people working on the study.

“We’ve heard stories of people casting votes and then turning the device off,” he said. “It is not like an ATM machine where you use it every day.”

The findings of the Caltech/MIT Voting Project have been submitted to the task force studying the election procedures in Florida. Caltech president David Baltimore and MIT president Charles M. Vest created the Voting Project in December in the hopes of avoiding voting problems like those that occurred in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

Electronic voting is still in its infancy. According to Stewart, about two per cent of the U.S. voting population in 1980 voted by some electronic means. During last year’s election, approximately 11 per cent of the voting population voted electronically, he said.

“It is not very pervasive,” Stewart said. “It is the fastest growing part (of new voting technology).”

The Caltech/MIT Voting Project team hopes to have definitive answers on the efficiencies of the existing voting technologies by June, Stewart said. Project members hope to work with engineers to develop new voting technology that is robust and yet practical, he said.

The preliminary study titled “A Preliminary Assessment of Reliability of Existing Voting Equipment” can be viewed at

– IDG News Service