Voter fraud is the act of illegally manipulating votes to favor one candidate over another. Over the years, this practice has brought to prominent view a rather ugly side of power hungry groups who often used threatening harassment and intimidation to achieve desired electoral outcomes. In modern times, voter fraud methods have taken more subtle forms.
The prevention of segments of eligible voters from casting their votes is one method of voter fraud. This usually occurs via “mistakes” made during the voter registration process. Another way that voter fraud happens is by directly modifying the results of votes during an election. Legislation concerning voting machine system certification has been enacted to help officials detect and prevent voter fraud.
History of Voting Machine Systems
In the U.S., voting has been conducted either by a paper based ballot or by a mechanical voting machine system. Recent history of “hanging chads” aside, the mechanical voting machine system remains a common voting method used today with only a few states still offering paper based ballot casting. However, repeated mechanical failures of voting machines have prompted voters in many states to request paper ballots again.
Voting machine systems are considered to be any type of mechanical device or electronic mechanism used to cast votes. These systems include both the hardware and the software needed for system operation. One of the earliest voting machines used in a general election was invented by Anthony Beranek in 1881. It was strictly a mechanical device that featured a display of interlocking buttons to prevent multiple vote casting by a single voter and a tabulation attribute. Since then voting machines have kept pace with technology and have undergone a variety of improvements.
Even though the advent of voting machines and electronic voting systems have served to mitigate many risks of voter fraud associated with paper based ballots, opportunities still exist to exploit voting machine systems’ hardware and software. Today’s technology provides people with the ability to verify electronic voting registration records in advance of elections. Additionally, Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002 to authorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to federally certify the integrity of voting machine systems and accredit test laboratories related to the voting machine system certification process.
Certification and Testing of Electronic Voting Machines
Ways to detect and prevent voter fraud surrounding the use of voting machines is through the independent certification and testing of voting machine systems. Because of certain states’ rights concerns, there is no requirement for a standard voting machine. There are a limited number of voting machine manufacturers that supply machines to voting precincts around the country, and they are often reluctant to reveal proprietary information about system design features.
Variations in voting machine design and features are not viewed negatively. However, a lack of federal and state performance standards for certifying the performance and security features of these machines was considered a problem. Empowered through HAVA, the EAC worked with other government agencies to establish certification standards called Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) for voting machine systems. They have also established accreditation standards for laboratories conducting voting machine system integrity testing. These test and accreditation laboratories exist around the country but operate under the auspices of the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program.
Besides ensuring that the voting machine systems are certified against the VVSG standards prior to fielding, a few tests may be done to detect suspicious activities prior to elections. Parallel testing compares an independent set of voting results against the original results. Logic and accuracy testing allows independent system verifiers to use test votes to determine if the voting machine systems are processing votes correctly.
Technology has brought about new ways to detect and deter voter fraud surrounding the use of voting machines. Maintaining a standard set of certification criteria for voting machine systems remains the primary way to ensure that all voting machines used for elections have similar security features designed into the product to help prevent voter fraud through equipment tampering. Independent verification agencies may also use statistics gathered through exit poll data to loosely detect probable voter fraud. Continued prosecution of those proven to have been involved with voter fraud is also an effective deterrent of future voter fraud activities surrounding voting machine system use.
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