Poll: Voters Want Paper Trail
By Laila Weir in Wired News
02:00 AM Aug. 25, 2004 PT
A new poll shows growing support for requiring electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper trail.
Just under half of all respondents 44 percent said they thought computerized voting systems are unreliable, up from about one-fourth of respondents in other studies. And almost three-fourths said the systems should produce a paper record that the voter can review. Sixty percent said they would vote for a presidential candidate this year who supports requiring a paper trail.
"There seem to be indications that the issue could sway voters in the presidential election," said Geoff Mordock, a spokesman for AccuPoll, the company that commissioned the poll. AccuPoll makes voting machines with a voter-verified paper trail.
Public Opinion Strategies, a survey research company, conducted the poll of 780 likely voters for AccuPoll during the first week of August. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percent.
The new numbers present a different picture from previous polls. In early May, the Information Technology Association of America released a summary of a study showing that 77 percent of respondents were not very concerned about the security of election systems, regardless of the technology platform. That poll was conducted for the ITAA by the Winston Group. The ITAA did not release the full survey.
At the end of July, a study by the Ponemon Institute, an independent think tank, found that one-fourth of respondents had little or no confidence in the security and reliability of e-voting systems. The study found that 45 percent of respondents held an unfavorable view of e-voting or were undecided.
The new survey could indicate a shift in public opinion, according to Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist who is a fellow with Harvard University and an advocate of auditable voting machines.
Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute also said voters may be changing their minds, due to media reports of problems with e-voting machines and as the election approaches.
"Because we're getting closer to the general election, people may be starting to become more concerned about the technology," Ponemon said.
The new poll shows that 60 percent of likely voters surveyed would vote for a presidential candidate who promised to support a law requiring every e-voting machine to produce a paper record. Thirty-three percent said they would strongly support a candidate with that position, while 27 percent said they would somewhat support such a candidate.
By contrast, just 15 percent of respondents said they would support a candidate who said producing a paper audit record is an unnecessary expense and that voters can trust what they see on the voting-machine screen. Eight percent said they would somewhat support such a candidate, and 7 percent said they would strongly support such a candidate.
Forty-nine percent of the poll respondents said they had confidence in the machines, compared with 44 percent who said they did not. But when respondents were asked more specifically whether they felt the machines are reliable or "are not always reliable because of the risk of programming error or fraudulent hacking," 63 percent said they are unreliable, and 32 percent said they are reliable.
While neither candidate has come out clearly for or against requiring a paper trail, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has said that he thinks systems should be able to trace and recount all votes.
Neither campaign responded to requests for comment.
Despite an outcry among activists who fear that electronic voting machines are unreliable or could be tampered with, more than 48 million people, or 31 percent of registered voters, will use the machines in the November election, according to a study (PDF) by Election Data Services. Of the electronic voting machines used in November, only those in Nevada will produce a paper trail.
Paper-trail advocate Mercuri said she is pleased with the results of the new poll.
"It's the first indication that contradicts what the ITAA and other people who support these paperless voting systems are telling us," Mercuri said. "This is great because it shows that people are now aware of this issue."