Voters in Tuesday’s primary election might have noticed something new at the polls this time around: Every polling location in the state had at least one brand-spanking-new electronic voting machine set up to help disabled voters cast their ballots.
This year’s primary election marked the first time the new AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal machines were up and running in the state’s 720 polling locations.
Curious as to how these new $5,000 touch-screen marvels work, I convinced an elections judge to let me give it a try (the machines are reserved for handicapped voters).
The process took about 10 minutes, as opposed to the minute or so it usually takes to fill out a ballot in the conventional manner, but when all was said and done I had the same result: a standard ballot card with each oval neatly filled in next to my chosen candidates. Then I just inserted the completed ballot into the optical scan machine like everyone else and I was on my way.
Following the presidential election debacle in 2000, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, designed, in part, to fund improvements in voting equipment, replace the dreaded punch-card voting systems (think “dimpled chad”) and create computerized statewide voter databases.
But even as states are taking measures to implement new systems to prevent election fraud and voter disenfranchisement, troubling news reports are surfacing that shed light on flaws in some of the new touch-screen systems.
Last month Newsweek magazine reported that a Finnish security firm found “the most serious voting-machine flaws ever documented” in Diebold Election Systems’ machines. The Diebold flaw could allow someone with access to the machine to reprogram it prior to the election to throw votes to a chosen candidate.
“[Montana’s new] machines have nothing to do with the Diebold,” Montana Elections Bureau deputy Elaine Graveley is quick to point out.
The one I used didn’t tally the ballot; it just helped me fill it out.
“Basically, it’s a very expensive pencil,” she says.