Buzz of the Week: Vote early, vote often

This week’s election could be the last — at least for the near future — in which electronic voting systems play a major role

Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University, told a conference audience that the incoming presidential administration will need time to begin making significant changes. Due to the lengthy clearance process for some political appointee positions, it might take several months for the next president to fill agency positions. The Bush administration took an average of nine months to fill spots, and that was a good record, Light said. “The management positions tend to come last,” he added. “It’s just the way of the world.” However, he predicted that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the General Services Administration would be among the high-priority agencies for which the next president would try to appoint leaders quickly.

This week’s election could be the last — at least for the near future — in which electronic voting systems play a major role. That’s because fears about election fraud have heightened concerns about the reliability of high-tech voting systems.

Those worries are nothing new, but the narrative has shifted. In previous elections, most experts were concerned about the systems’ security and frightened by the prospect of hackers tampering with votes without ever being detected.

This year, the story has focused on voter-registration fraud, a decidedly low-tech concern. Many states bought systems that do not provide a paper-based audit trail that could be used to verify results if the vote is close and fraud is suspected.

Unfortunately, even if incidences of fraud never materialize, people’s security concerns will remain largely undiminished and the lack of a paper trail will still be considered a liability.

Election officials who bought the latest voting systems are no doubt looking back wistfully to earlier generations of technology, such as optical scanning, in which voters fill out paper ballots that were scanned and tallied electronically. If necessary, those votes could be verified by human eyes.

It’s a classic case of technology being rushed into use before it’s ready. People bought into the promise of the technology — most notably, the reduced possibility of human error and the quick returns on election night — without giving full consideration to its potential weaknesses.

Money probably also factored into their decisions because requiring a paper audit trail would have added to the cost of the systems and the complexity of election operations. 

Unfortunately, some states are likely to face even bigger expenses as public pressure mounts to invest more money in fixing current systems or tossing them out altogether and starting from scratch.

THE BUZZ AT ELC

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council held their annual Executive Leadership Conference last week in Williamsburg, Va. Here are some conference highlights.

Panel identifies top federal IT priorities
A group of government and industry executives previewed technology-related recommendations for the next administration at the opening session of the conference.

Mark Forman, former administrator of e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, and Roger Baker, former chief information office at the Commerce Department and leader of IAC’s Transition Study Project, said more than 80 people had written issue papers containing the recommendations and the group will deliver them just after the Nov. 4 elections. The authors include a large number of CXO-level people who served in Democratic and Republican administrations.

The nonpartisan, vendor-neutral issue papers will provide road maps for applying technology to 10 high-priority national issues, Forman and Baker said. Those priorities are:


  • Acquisition process improvement.

  • Budget challenges.

  • The war on terrorism.

  • Health care.

  • Energy and the environment.

  • Identity and access management.

  • Entitlement programs.

  • Disaster protection.

  • Financial and regulatory reform.

  • Government management.


New administration will need time to make changes




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