South Carolina is one of the more than 15 states that thought they were forward-looking when they decided to rely primarily on touch-screen e-voting systems. The systems, however, do not provide any verification receipt for voters to review and which election officials can consult later if ballot accuracy is questioned and a recount is demanded.
The accuracy of the paperless Election Systems & Software (ES&S) iVotronic direct recording electronic (DRE) touch-screen machines used throughout South Carolina has come under scrutiny in recent years. Researchers from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, along with Clemson University and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina last year analyzed the results of the state's November 2010 elections. Audit trail files produced by ES&S system software indicated to the researchers that "votes were not counted, that procedures that should have been checked automatically were not checked, and that vote data to support the certified counts has not been collected or stored," according to their report (pdf).
Given that South Carolina spent more than $30 million to implement e-voting systems, it is unlikely they will replace them, particularly with low-tech paper ballots and optical scanners. Still, the stakes are high, with national implications. Since 1980, every winner of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary has gone on to win the party nomination.
Online e-voting seems a logical step at a time when home buyers can take virtual tours of real estate thousands of kilometers away and students can receive college degrees without ever setting foot in a classroom. Some voting districts allow military personal and overseas voters to print mail-in ballots from Web sites.
Not unexpectedly, some groups are even calling for the right to take voting directly to "the cloud" in the hope of accommodating absentee voters and attracting those not inclined to make the trip to their local polls. Americans Elect, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has registered as a political party in Alaska, Arizona and 13 other states with a platform that advocates Internet-based voting. Americans Elect does not yet have a candidate for the 2012 presidential election, but the group is using an Internet-based nominating process to solicit one. Given that primary season has begun, it's more likely that this movement will prove mostly symbolic in 2012.
Internet and electronic voting share all of the same problems, with the added threat to the former of votes being flipped to the other candidate or erased by a hacker based anywhere in the world, Dill says.
Efforts to test prospects for Internet voting have failed miserably thus far, asserts Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International who has researched voting technology, citing in particular the Internet-based system that the Washington, D.C., Board of Elections and Ethics tried to set up in 2010. That system was undone when a group of security testers were able to hack into the site and make the University of Michigan fight song play each time someone cast a vote.