Voting Machines: Out with the Old in with the New

Some students who voted in previous elections may be in for a new experience this time around: Antiquated punch-card and lever machines have been replaced by modern hardware.

A recent federal law mandated all states to have voting systems in place this year that meet strict, error-prevention requirements.

The law, named the Help America Vote Act of 2002, was created to prevent future elections from being marred by similar problems that plagued Florida in the 2000 presidential election.

Most counties in Pennsylvania now use touch-screen electronic voting machines. A few counties are using paper ballots with optical scanners, but all election systems in the state have been certified HAVA-compliant.

“I believe that there will be no issues with these new machines,” said Deborah Hinchey, president of the Temple University College Democrats. These machines “make for a more quicker [election return] result, and we hope it makes for an accurate result,” said Hinchey, a junior majoring in political science.

Some Pennsylvanians, however, said the new machines aren’t any more reliable than the voting systems Florida used in 2000.

Twenty-five Pennsylvania residents filed a lawsuit against the state in August claiming the touch-screen voting systems can be subject to tampering that could miscount the votes. Commonwealth Court is scheduled to hear the case next Wednesday – well after the votes are cast and counted.

Software defects have caused problems in Maryland’s primary election earlier this year, raising questions on the reliability of electronic systems.

“Relying on computerized machines is a big mistake,” said Terry Gibbs, a senior criminal justice major. “They’re only as smart as the programmer who programmed them in the beginning.”Gibbs, 38, is “an old-school voting machine person ’cause I first started voting on lever machines,” he said.

Gibbs opposes the new voting machines for several reasons: He said they may intimidate older voters from showing up at the polls and “will disenfranchise some people who don’t know how the system works.”

Gibbs acknowledged that some of the old voting systems had problems, but he said he believes the new ones are potentially more problematic because they run on software that could malfunction or be hacked.

“What safe guards do they have?” Gibbs asked. “Where’s the data going and how’s the data being protected from hacking?”

The new voting systems have undergone extensive testing before Commonwealth Secretary Pedro Cortes certified them as being compliant with the law.

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at

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