Touch-Screen Voting

David Card and Enrico Moretti, both economists at UC Berkeley, have published an interesting analysis of electronic voting machines and the 2004 election: "Does Voting Technology Affect Election Outcomes? Touch-screen Voting and the 2004 Presidential Election."

Here's the abstract:

Supporters of touch-screen voting claim it is a highly reliable voting technology, while a growing number of critics argue that paperless electronic voting systems are vulnerable to fraud. In this paper we use county-level data on voting technologies in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections to test whether voting technology affects electoral outcomes. We first show that there is a positive correlation between use of touch-screen voting and the level of electoral support for George Bush. This is true in models that compare the 2000-2004 changes in vote shares between adopting and non-adopting counties within a state, after controlling for income, demographic composition, and other factors. Although small, the effect could have been large enough to influence the final results in some closely contested states. While on the surface this pattern would appear to be consistent with allegations of voting irregularities, a closer examination suggests this interpretation is incorrect. If irregularities did take place, they would be most likely in counties that could potentially affect statewide election totals, or in counties where election officials had incentives to affect the results. Contrary to this prediction, we find no evidence that touch-screen voting had a larger effect in swing states, or in states with a Republican Secretary of State. Touch-screen voting could also indirectly affect vote shares by influencing the relative turnout of different groups. We find that the adoption of touch-screen voting has a negative effect on estimated turnout rates, controlling for state effects and a variety of county-level controls. This effect is larger in counties with a higher fraction of Hispanic residents (who tend to favor Democrats) but not in counties with more African Americans (who are overwhelmingly Democrat voters). Models for the adoption of touch-screen voting suggest it was more likely to be used in counties with a higher fraction of Hispanic and Black residents, especially in swing states. Nevertheless, the impact of non-random adoption patterns on vote shares is small.

Posted on May 25, 2005 at 8:13 AM • 38 Comments

Comments

SteveMay 25, 2005 9:03 AM

I'm not sure why you say that the paper is $5.00. It let me download it with no restriction.

AnonymousMay 25, 2005 9:47 AM

@Steve, your organisation must have a subscription - hence why it is free.

From home it demands $5, from uni I can download it for free.

DevanMay 25, 2005 10:21 AM

From the abstract alone, I do not get the conclusion or hypothesis of the paper. Is the result that the data is inconclusive or has it concluded that the effect of these machines was marginal/inconclusive?

AnonymousMay 25, 2005 10:22 AM

Well, given that more people voted for George W. Bush in 2000 than in 2004, any change of technology in most counties could be seen as showing a positive correlation with votes for the current President. Controlling for income, demographics etc won't change that.

Stu SavoryMay 25, 2005 11:02 AM

Devan says : "From the abstract alone, I do not get the conclusion".

I assume that " the adoption of touch-screen voting has a negative effect on estimated turnout rates" means :

Any idiot can put an X on a sheet of paper, but some folks (statistically less well educated perhaps) don't trust themselves to operate them new-fangled machine thingamajigs.

Therefore there is a need to make the machines simpler and explain them well.

Stu

Darrel SkubinnaMay 25, 2005 11:32 AM

Who cares whether certain demographic groups are more or less likely to vote depending on the tecnology used? If the gadget used to cast a vote is a factor, that person probably has a moral obligation not to vote because he or she is obviously not smart enough to vote for the right reasons. I would like to see some good analysis of the likelihood of fraud involving touch screen voting..

AnonymousMay 25, 2005 11:49 AM

Touch screens are more expensive than a paper ballot, resulting in less booths and longer wait times. More voters are likely to get frustrated and leave.

ScoteMay 25, 2005 11:55 AM

From the Abstract:
"Democrat voters"

Usually anyone who calls Democratic voters, Democrat voters is right wing. They don't like the say "Democratic" reminds people of "Democracy." There has been a deliberate substitution of the term "Democrat" for "Democratic" because it sounds worse. This does not bode well for the impartiality of this study.

IO ERRORMay 25, 2005 12:33 PM

I also was able to download this for free, though it's probably because I'm using Tor. If there's anything really interesting in it, I'll post a follow-up later.

ProbitasMay 25, 2005 12:56 PM

"Although small, the effect could have been large enough to influence the final results in some closely contested states. While on the surface this pattern would appear to be consistent with allegations of voting irregularities, a closer examination suggests this interpretation is incorrect. If irregularities did take place, they would be most likely in counties that could potentially affect statewide election totals, or in counties where election officials had incentives to affect the results"

Maybe I am just paranoid, byt that sounds like a solid description of beta testing in an off market first. Work any bugs out of the tampering system in the podunks first, then roll it out bigger at a later date.

Gustavo BittencourtMay 25, 2005 2:40 PM

I couldn't understand why Americans are so reluctant about e-voting. Brazil has probably the world largest e-voting system, and here (in Brazil), electronic voting is much more reliable than the older paper voting.

The key of Brazilian experience success is the care with the whole process, and not only to the technology.

Best regards Bruce, I really appreciate your blog.

Gustavo Bittencourt.

ScoteMay 25, 2005 2:43 PM

Devan wrote:
"@Scote - The DNC itself refers to Democrats as Democrats: http://www.democrats.org/
Do you think they are right wing as well?"

No. It has to do with the way you use the word.

Note that you said "Democrats" not "Democrat," which should have answered your own question. Note that the DNC is the *Democratic* National Party, not the *Democrat* National Party. An individual member is a Democrat, collectively they are Democrats and when used to modify another term, it is Democratic--not Democrat.

Using "Democrat" instead of "Democrats" or "Democratic" is usually a deliberate Right Wing framing trick.

AnonMay 25, 2005 4:13 PM

If you search the paper, you will see that the authors sometimes use the word "democratic" and sometimes "democrat" as an adjective (i.e. democrat voter and democratic voter). If this paper were a part of a right wing conspiracy, I would expect a little more consistency.

ScoteMay 25, 2005 5:14 PM

"If this paper were a part of a right wing conspiracy, I would expect a little more consistency."

You don't need to be part of a conspiracy to be biased. Note that I never claimed the study was part of a conspiracy--or necessarily biased--only that using "Democrat" as an adjective is usually part of a deliberate negative framing of the word used by Right Wingers.

Heath StewartMay 25, 2005 6:13 PM

The excerpt states that e-voting is vulnerable to fraud. Paper ballots aren't? The state of Washington is going through a court battle over the governor's race because of allegations of fraud and with pretty good evidence.

Practically anything is vulnerable to fraud. So long as the e-voting system is written well (not like that from Diebold) it could actually save a lot of time and be more accurate.

JiistmeMay 25, 2005 6:15 PM

@Scote

Democrat vs Democratic...one is "deliberate Right Wing framing trick" and the other is valid??? Are you implying that if I took a poll on the street and asked people if they rated the word democrat 1-10 (10 being bad) and they rated the word democratic the same way, that democratic would come out statistically worse than democrat?

Ok, enough of that...I don't know how Brazil does their e-voting, so I cannot comment on that. But, from all the reading I have done on the e-voting machines here in the US, I don't trust that the companies that are making the machines are putting enough testing and security features into them. I just don't think I could ever trust that the final tally of one of them is even close to the correct tally.

Jiistme

JiistmeMay 25, 2005 6:19 PM

@Heath
"Practically anything is vulnerable to fraud. So long as the e-voting system is written well (not like that from Diebold) it could actually save a lot of time and be more accurate."

Now, this I agree with. It is not as much e-voting I am biased against as much as I don't believe any e-voting systems in place in the US are any safer than paper ballots.

-Jiistme

Thomas SprinkmeierMay 25, 2005 6:58 PM

@Heath
"Practically anything is vulnerable to fraud. So long as the e-voting system is written well (not like that from Diebold) it could actually save a lot of time and be more accurate."

The current system does not have the ability to do (meningful) recounts.

This will certainly save time.

One out ot two ain't bad.


@Darrel Skubinna
"If the gadget used to cast a vote is a factor, that person probably has a moral obligation not to vote because he or she is obviously not smart enough to vote for the right reasons."

I agree totally. Furthermore, I thing that ballots should be held in Latin. Heck, if you can't speak Latin, what possible input could you have that's worth having?

ScoteMay 25, 2005 7:54 PM

" Are you implying that if I took a poll on the street and asked people if they rated the word democrat 1-10 (10 being bad) and they rated the word democratic the same way, that democratic would come out statistically worse than democrat?"

Yes, you have to put the word in context for a proper poll, but generally you have the idea.

AnonymousMay 25, 2005 11:31 PM

India, as well as Brazil, has adopted electronic voting. One of the key features of their program is that the design--which is open--is so simple that it is capable of complete review and verification. It also has a user interface so simple that it is readily accessible to the illiterate. A nice description is at:
http://www.eci.gov.in/EVM/

@Thomas:
Adsentio! Autem absque probationibus litteraturae... 8^(

@Scote:
``Note that you said "Democrats" not "Democrat," which should have answered your own question.''
Okaaaay ... so "Democrats" is ok, but if it's only one of 'em, it's a conspiracy? Here's what the dictionary says:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=democrat
``dem·o·crat n. 1. An advocate of democracy. 2. Democrat A member of the Democratic Party.''
Damn, the lexicographers are in on it! I know it won't help for me to say this, but I suspect that you're an actual paranoid.

ScoteMay 25, 2005 11:39 PM

"dem·o·crat n. 1. An advocate of democracy. 2. Democrat A member of the Democratic Party.''
Damn, the lexicographers are in on it! I know it won't help for me to say this, but I suspect that you're an actual paranoid."

Well, I do hate to beat this to death but I must point out that nothing you have said contradicts my point. The handy dictionary you refer to notes the use of the word "Democrat" as a singular noun, not as a plural or an adjective. You are only proving *my* point, not yours. It doesn't seem like you have been paying attention.

While I certainly welcome any criticism of my point--I learn when people point out any possible flaws in my arguments and I could be wrong--you have provided evidence that disproves your point and proclaimed victory at the same time! One might almost suspect you of being a Neo-Con since that is their apparent modus operandi.

mjkMay 26, 2005 8:19 AM


@Scote

"While I certainly welcome any criticism of my point--I learn when people point out any possible flaws in my arguments and I could be wrong--you have provided evidence that disproves your point and proclaimed victory at the same time!"

You start out attempting to claim you stand on high moral ground because you welcome criticism. Then you finish with this:

"One might almost suspect you of being a Neo-Con since that is their apparent modus operandi."

HA!

Israel TorresMay 26, 2005 10:51 AM

Don't like touchscreen because of willy-nilly auditing? Use biometrics with touchscreen so that all you touch you are accountable for... or so it should seem.

Israel Torres

AnonymousMay 26, 2005 11:44 AM

@Thomas:
> Qe?
You earlier wrote: "Heck, if you can't speak Latin, what possible input could you have that's worth having?" So, desperately seeking validation, I replied in (very bad doggy) Latin.

@Scote:
OK, if English isn't your first language you may not realise this, but in English we can turn any noun into an adjective by simply placing it in front of another noun. There's a fancy name for this (attributive nouns), but most people just do it, without realising what a clever trick it is. Examples: brick wall (a wall of bricks), apple tree (a tree with apples), dinner table (a table for dinner), Democrat voter (a voter who favours the Democrats).

There's an interesting feature that when such a compound is pluralised, only the second (subject) noun is pluralised. But every rule in English grammar has an exception, and this one does too: when "man" or "woman" is used as an attributive noun, it pluralises with its subject. Thus we have "brick walls" not "bricks walls", "apple trees" not "apples trees", "dinner tables" not "dinners tables" and "Democrat voters" not "Democrats voters" BUT if we have one woman painter and get another, we now have two women painters. OK?

I'm sure that's far more than the subject warrants and I apologise to toher readers.

ScoteMay 26, 2005 1:01 PM

@ Anonymous
""Democrat voters" not "Democrats voters" BUT if we have one woman painter and get another, we now have two women painters. OK?"

Actually I do find the grammar lesson interesting. However, in spite of your lesson, yo still know that the term Democratic is used to describe Democratic Voters or the Democratic National Committee--Not Democrat National Committe. I, too, appologies for the lengthy sub thread, but I'm not going to let your points go un answered.

@mjk
""One might almost suspect you of being a Neo-Con since that is their apparent modus operandi."...HA!"

Hmm...you might have me there. But my reaction was based on my contention that his/her point was invalid and hypocritical. I did, I should note, use a triple conditional in that phrase, so I never actually accused Anon of being (shudder) a Neo-Con."

Count ZeroMay 26, 2005 3:38 PM

"India, as well as Brazil, has adopted electronic voting."

I hope Brazil's system is better than India's. That one has no chance of taking off in the US, if only because it's so ugly ^_^

However, the more serious complaint is that there is no voter-verifiable paper trail. The same complaint lodged against pretty much _every_ system used in the US. Without this step, there is no way to verify an election, period.

--"Use biometrics with touchscreen so that all you touch you are accountable for... "

Completely voiding the secret aspect of a secret ballot, but maybe my sarcasm detector was malfunctioning.

Thomas SprinkmeierMay 26, 2005 6:43 PM

@ Anonymous

I realize I had been called out and found to be bluffing.

I just wanted to know what you said. "sarcasm is the lowest form of wit" in latin prhaps?

Gustavo BittencourtMay 27, 2005 7:55 AM

"However, the more serious complaint is that there is no voter-verifiable paper trail. The same complaint lodged against pretty much _every_ system used in the US. Without this step, there is no way to verify an election, period."

No, there isn't paper trail in Brazil voting system, and I have doubt if this control give some kind of extra security that some process or technical controls couldn't. Brazil tested the use of a paper trail in one a region in the last election, but these machines had much more fails than the machines without this control.

AnonymousJune 2, 2005 3:49 PM

From the above comment:

"Touch screens are more expensive than a paper ballot, resulting in less booths and longer wait times. More voters are likely to get frustrated and leave."

Posted by: Anonymous at May 25, 2005 11:49 AM

The comparison holds true for scanning ballot systems too, they are far cheaper and can service huge amounts of people with one scanner in a time interval.

Touch screen vote suppressing systems can only process a voter every 2-5 minutes, a vote scanner can process a vote in a handfull of seconds, at least a magnitude of 10 times faster.

Time in line is a factor in turnout as is cost to the government (usually county) that implements an election. Touch screen is both more expensive an slower, guarenteeing a suppression of turnout in districts its supporters want to supress most, poor non-republican voting precincts.

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