As usual, next week’s congressional election will be run not as a single national operation, with standardised polling times and procedures in the way Australia (like most other countries) is used to, but as a patchwork of state and local jurisdictions all with their own way of doing things.
The scandal of the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida was supposed to lead to reform, but almost nothing has been done. Federal grants under the Help America Vote Act have helped states upgrade some of their obsolete technology, but that may not necessarily be a step forward.
A spokesman for Diebold showed touching faith in electoral officials (who, in the US, are almost always partisan): “For there to be a problem here, you’re basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software … I don’t believe these evil elections people exist.”
Greater technological sophistication doesn’t always mean greater security against fraud or error.
As compared to traditional paper voting, electronic machines lack transparency, and in a close election — such as the 2004 contest in Ohio — provide fertile ground for accusations of wrongdoing. (Disclosure here: in my spare time, I’m a partner in a firm that conducts elections the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper.)
But the shortcomings of local systems don’t stop the US from casting aspersions on other countries. Last year, for example, suspect voting machines in Venezuela were used as the excuse for the US-backed opposition to boycott congressional elections.
Just last week, another American company, Sequoia Voting Systems, revealed that it was under investigation for ties to the Venezuelan government.
And on Tuesday, Reuters reported that the Dutch interior ministry had banned the use of a type of electronic voting machine in this month’s general election, after tests revealed that radiation from them enabled an observer to detect how people had voted from 20 metres away!
Australia’s electoral system has its problems, but we do get some things right.