After the punch-card problems in Florida’s 2000 presidential election, the $3.86-billion Help America Vote Act was intended to help counties and cities across the country replace older voting technologies—punch cards, optical scanner ballots and, of course, paper ballots—with new, direct-recording electronic systems. The so-called DREs eliminate the middleman, since they display the ballot, store the vote and generate the tally. Thanks to the interest in avoiding the problems of the past, millions of voters will cast electronic ballots this year, many for the first time.
But the switch from the older and maligned systems to electronic systems has itself been controversial and divisive. Like many industries and unions that deal with the federal government, election companies are politically active. The difference with the election industry is that it deals with the most important exercise of democracy. The investment in DREs was intended to make voting easier, more accurate and more accessible—and above all, to restore voter confidence in the electoral process. As electionline.org notes, however, "the voting machine industry as a whole has faced questions that seem to have done the opposite."
Originally produced by the Election Reform Information Project, a Trusts-supported initiative of the University of Richmond, electionline.org is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy Web site with up-to-the-minute news and analysis on election reform (it is now the name of the project, too). Its new briefing The Business of Elections looks at the process by which state and local election officials buy goods and services from election companies (there’s also a history of the election business from the late-19th century to today). At issue are campaign donations and lobbying expenditures by the companies and the security and accuracy of the DREs. Some doubters have called for a voter-verified paper audit trail to back up the electronic results.
Also available at electionline.org are the latest election-reform news; a resource library with previous reports and analysis; a repository of newsletters and e-mail alerts on key election-reform topics (and a way to sign up for future issues); and an interactive map of demographic voting data. In addition, electionline.org sponsors conferences where policymakers, journalists and other interested parties gather to discuss the ideas, successes and failures of election reform.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, please visit electionline.org.