Running Out og Time

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2006-11-05 Print this article Print

"I would say that the EAC encountered significant challenges from Day One," said Ray Martinez, a former commissioner of the EAC. "The process took longer than anyone expected, and we were never able to catch up."

Martinez, now an attorney in private practice in Austin, Texas, was the commissions first vice chairman. He now works as a policy adviser on election issues to the Pew Center on the States, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The machines were only part of the problem, as a statewide voter registration database was required by HAVA in every state in the nation.
In many states, this meant at the very least converting voter records to a database that met federal requirements. In some states, it meant moving from locally held manual systems to a statewide database almost overnight.

As it takes hold, e-voting faces big risks. Click here to read more. "When you combine the implementation of a statewide database and implementation of electronic voting systems, we had to build in time for state and local administrators around the country to be able to gain some level of comfort," Martinez said. "There was no time for any of this. There was not enough time built in for our decentralized election system to absorb the changes. There were a series of breakdowns."

Martinez said that the EAC wasnt able to get its first set of voluntary standards published until 2005, with states election administrators required to be ready for the 2006 election or violate the HAVA law as applied by the Department of Justice. Most of those groups had been holding off on their upgrades, waiting for help and funding from the EAC, Martinez said. "I dont think anyone anticipated that HAVA would have become such a massive IT project," he said.

Adequate training for workers is also an issue. In nearly every jurisdiction in the United States, voting is handled by volunteers. Poll-worker training is a perennial problem in the United States, said Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at New York University School of Laws Brennan Center for Justice.

Other experts agreed that the staffing demands of the rollout were unrealistic. "We have 182,000 polling places in America that are manned by about 1.5 million poll workers," said Paul DeGregorio, chairman of the Washington-based EAC, who oversees the training of U.S. poll workers. "They have to be trained to deal with this new equipment, [and] they have to understand provisional voting, the machines, everything," DeGregorio said.

NIST to certify voting machine security, standards. Click here to read more. The lack of federal guidance, coupled with the relatively nascent state of e-voting technology, meant that a lot of voting administrators decided to simply wait to see what was going to happen, a strategy that would never be tolerated in profit-driven businesses, experts said.

"There were many delays. They had to wait for the state legislatures to empower them before they could implement," said Weiser in New York. "There were political delays in the state governments. There were delays in the EAC, which wasnt even constituted until a year after it was supposed to have been; it wasnt given funds when it was supposed to have them."

In a nod to the lack of planning by legislators buying the technologies, vendors of e-voting devices admit that some of the concerns being leveled at their companies today are leftovers from the punch-card era and could have been considered more closely upfront.

"Some of the allegations are almost word for word what the allegations were with the old lever machines," said Mark Radke, director of marketing for Diebold Election Systems, in Allen, Texas.

Security glitches were not the biggest issue in recent voting machine use. Several states held primary elections in 2006, and in some cases, the problem boiled down to training—ranging from poll workers forgetting to insert memory cards to not knowing how to turn the machines on, Radke said.

"Training is critically important to a smooth implementation," Radke said.

To see reader response to this article, click here. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel