Analyst warns on e-voting confidence

As the US prepares to make its mind up in its Presidential election, Datamonitor says voting machine vendors must work to maintain public confidence in their products.

A new report out today has said that much needs to be done by voting machine vendors to help combat negative perceptions of electronic voting.

With the last US Presidential candidate debate held last night between candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, most thoughts will now be turning to final voting choices. But analyst firm Datamonitor warned that vendors need to combat the perception of vulnerable voting machines.

The report predicted optical scan voting machines will continue to be widely adopted. But internet voting, although its widespread implementation is a long way off, will act as a complement rather than a replacement to voting in the polling booth.

"Elections in the 21st century have become very technology-dependent processes and without a doubt, electronic voting brings a number of benefits to the election process," said Ben Madgett, the report's author and Datamonitor public sector technology analyst.

But he said negative press around the reliability and security of these systems like the controversy around the recent London mayoral elections and last year's Scottish e-voting in local elections would require voting machine vendors to build confidence in their systems and counter the criticism coming from anti-voting machine advocates.

After the 2000 US Presidential election was fraught with controversy over poorly-designed paper ballots that put voter intent into question, Congress passed legislation calling on states to upgrade their voting equipment. The report said this virtually overnight gave rise to a US market for electronic voting systems.

Yet, while demand for accurate election results has led governments to adopt electronic voting technologies, the report also called on election officials to address concerns about security, privacy and human error. "Electronic voting machines are only as secure as the processes which govern their use," the report stated.

Madgett added that voting over the internet has been implemented in a number of jurisdictions, such as Estonia and Switzerland. In the 2008 US election, a county in Florida is running a pilot for its military voters living abroad.

"It will however be some time before the internet becomes a commonplace voting channel and, even then, it is likely to serve as an additional option rather than a replacement to voting at a local polling place," he added.

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