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Commentary: Electronic voting likely to emerge a winner

Gartner says voting in the 2000 U.S. presidential election would have been significantly more efficient if additional electronic voting options had been available.

By Christopher Baum, Gartner Analyst

Voting in the 2000 U.S. presidential election would have been significantly more efficient if additional electronic voting options had been available.

In national elections, voting is managed locally by more than 3,000 counties in the United States. Most counties determine which systems they each use, resulting in a dizzying array of machines, methods and practices across the United States. Gartner believes that if electronic voting had been used, the country would have known the winner of this year's election by the day following the voting, Nov. 8.

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The most significant recent use of electronic voting in the United States occurred in the Arizona Democratic primary in March 2000 and performed by Election.com. This primary represented the first binding U.S. public election featuring the option to vote via the Internet and allowed people to vote by

• Internet during the four-day period preceding the election
• Mail until election day
• Computer at the polls on election day
• Traditional paper ballot on election day

However, the Arizona example demonstrated that Internet voting does have some challenges. Servers were often unable to process the transaction volume, and online software was incompatible with Macintosh browsers as well as with a screen reader commonly used by the blind. As a result, the voter support desk was overloaded with calls.

Despite these issues, strong indications of success were apparent in Arizona. Almost half of the 87,000 voters cast their votes electronically. The results of the Internet portion of votes were available 17 minutes after the polls closed. Arizona residents who were out of state during the election could vote via the Internet, thus eliminating an additional wait for the absentee ballot count.

With the cost of processing manually cast ballots as high as $20 each, with mail-in absentee ballots potentially delaying final election results by weeks, and with Florida being a high-profile case study illustrating the need for more efficient ballot casting and tallying, it is clear that voting processes are in need of improvement. Electronic voting is one solution.

Gartner provides the following advice and explains the benefits regarding electronic voting:

• Presidential and local elections should be supplemented with Internet voting options available at voters' homes and at public polling places.

• Voters could log into a virtual private network via a specific PIN number or some other security measure.

• As votes are cast, they could be simultaneously transmitted to the tally point and recorded on local, permanent storage, such as a WORM (write once, read many) drive. The permanent storage device would be locked in a "ballot box" to prevent tampering and would be the "hard copy" backup used if a recount became necessary.

• Voter participation could be recorded separately from the actual ballot, providing verification that a voter did not vote more than once, while protecting the secret ballot.

• Voter participation would likely increase as the flexibility in casting votes became more widely available.

However, the application of IT--in this case, electronic voting--would not obviate potential deficiencies associated with user-interface design (for example, ballot design); IT only tabulates results faster than manual methods. Gartner predicts that by 2004, all 50 states will be using some form of electronic voting--at least for candidate selection.

(For related commentary on how technology could eliminate problems such as the Florida vote count debacle, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.

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