Will New Election Technology be able to Count every Vote after Hurricane Sandy?
By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor
In the United States, Americans like to say that every vote counts. But will new technology be able to count every vote on Tuesday’s Election Day?
Last-minute efforts are being made to make this a reality despite a significant number of power outages that linger from Hurricane Sandy.
Many of the newest forms of voting technology require electricity or battery back-up for machines to work.
Image via Shutterstock
For instance, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey “forces almost all of its voters to vote on 100 percent unverifiable electronic touchscreen systems on Election Day,” blogger Brad Friedman said in recent post.
Also, in many locations election officials are getting generators for polling stations and some polling locations are getting reassigned, according to The Associated Press. For example, in Long Beach, N.Y., the number of voting sites will be four instead of 11. Voters in Sea Bright, N.J., will vote in a nearby town.
Of the 1,256 polling locations in New York City, some 59 were either moved or closed, mostly along the shore in Brooklyn and Queens, news reports said. Some voters will vote in tents. On Long Island’s Nassau County, 30 to 40 voting locations out of 375 may be moved, news reports add.
In New Jersey, registered voters will be able to apply for an absentee ballot by fax or e-mail through 5 p.m. on Election Day, and cast their vote via fax or e-mail until 8 p.m. The decision to allow voting by fax or e-mail is worrying some political observers.
“While the order is obviously a response to a disaster, it would appear to be a recipe for disaster, as well as loss of privacy, fraud, and serious judicial challenge in the case of any close election contest,” said Freidman.
Also in New Jersey, paper ballots will be sent to polling places where power may be out. In addition, National Guard "military trucks with paper ballots would serve as polling places in areas [in New Jersey] where polling places still don't have power," according to a report from Salon, citing The Washington Post.
Also, last week early voting took place in Raleigh County, West Virginia, despite the storm damage, according to TMCnet. But many states canceled early voting hours last week.
As of Sunday, 1.9 million households or businesses still do not have power – with estimates that about a quarter of New Jersey and close to a tenth of New York had no electricity, according to Reuters.
These outages – particularly in those states with a large number of votes in the Electoral College – the unique American system for selecting a president – are being watched carefully.
Also, Computerworld said electronic voting machines will be used in Tuesday's presidential election in several states. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware – each of which were damaged by the storm – are among the 17 states which use paperless Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. New Jersey, Delaware and five others use the paperless machines statewide. The other states use both paper ballots and DRE voting systems.
In Pennsylvania, back-up plans include emergency paper ballots and running electronic voting machines on battery power, the Huffington Post said. Pennsylvania also extended the deadline for mail-in absentee ballots until 5 pm today.
There is concern, too, that emergency paper ballots may not be available in sufficient quantities. For instance, Pennsylvania says it requires emergency paper ballots for 20 to 25 percent of the registered voters at each polling location. "That number is unlikely to be enough in the event that voting machines are unavailable all day at the polls on November 6th," Friedman said.
Battery backups on the voting machines are unreliable and do not last long, Friedman added.
New York requires paper ballots for all voters by state law, and they may be read by optical-scan computer systems. Some 80 polling places in Connecticut were without power, as of Friday, but most are expected to have power restored by Tuesday, news reports said. Connecticut allows voters to vote on paper ballots, too.
The concerns about technology are even more important this year due to polls which suggest that the race for President is extremely close between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
After all, in America every vote counts.
Edited by Brooke Neuman