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Study highlights need for voting technology

Caltech and MIT researchers are advocating new voting measures they hope will prevent debacles like last year's presidential election.

    In an effort to relegate the hanging chad to a historical footnote, Caltech and MIT researchers are advocating new voting measures they hope will prevent debacles like last year's presidential election.

    In a California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology study released this week, researchers found that as many as 6 percent of all votes cast in the 2000 presidential election were not counted due to faulty voting technology and a flawed registration system.

    "It is remarkable that we in America put up with a system where as many as six out of every hundred voters are unable to get their votes counted," Caltech President David Baltimore said in a statement. "Twenty-first-century technology should be able to do much better than this."

    However, researchers would not recommend Internet voting, which was trumpeted by supporters as a panacea to ballot flaws in the days following the chaotic November election. The Caltech and MIT researchers said that Web voting right now is too susceptible to fraud, hacking and coercion. That position mirrors findings by a voter task force in California, which stopped short of endorsing Web voting because of similar concerns.

    The MIT and Caltech researchers did recommend a series of tech-related measures to improve the chances of fair and accurate voting and to avoid the November election mishap, when the official winner of the presidential race was not declared for more than a month after balloting due to numerous problems at Florida polling places.

    They said election officials should adopt optical scanning systems to replace punch cards and lever machines. They also recommended that counties lease laptops for each polling place, so workers can easily search for voters' names instead of having to scour paper records.

    The researchers urged election officials to adopt a standard for voting equipment to ensure that it counts the highest number of votes. And they asked the federal government to fund a research project to focus on voting technology.

    Researchers said the fixes would cost about $3 per voter, or $400 million, but would ensure that as many votes as possible are counted.