It's shaping up to be a tight race south of the border, and this November when U.S. citizens head to the polls, all eyes will be on one state.
Florida's aging VotoMatic punch-card machines were once billed as idiot-proof. But 2000 was the year of the hanging chad, the bit of paper dangling from the back of a poorly punched hole, which made the results in Florida very sketchy.
Analysts immediately promised flawless replacements, technology that would restore faith in the democratic process.
Brand new terminals, supposed models of touch-screen voting, debuted in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. But, alas, frozen terminals and other computer glitches caused a furor amongst voters. When the American Civil Liberties Union demanded verification of the results, the company, Election Systems & Software Inc., took months to admit that some of the computer log files were accidentally lost.
In this fall's presidential election, voters in 15 of Florida's 67 counties will cast ballots on such terminals. Nationwide, 50 million voters will place their trust in similar systems vulnerable to software glitches, hackers, power outages and other problems.
Last February, reports surfaced suggesting that touch-screen manufacturer Diebold was supplying other states with machines full of security flaws. People started to question the company when Republican candidate Sonny Perdue trounced the highly favoured Democratic incumbent to become Georgia's first Republican governor in 135 years.
It turns out that Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell is one of the GOP's biggest fundraisers, but it's impossible to prove that electoral fraud was committed, because votes only existed momentarily as electronic signals. There was no permanent record.
Nebraska has recently been praised for becoming the first state to require all electronic ballots be accompanied by a printed record of each vote. "It's a huge improvement over paperless systems, because there will be a paper record of every electronic ballot," says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to technology advocates that we could get this paper trail by voting the old way, with a pencil and a ballot.
When Canadians voted for their MPs last June, Elections Canada gave these instructions: "The voter takes the ballot behind the voting screen and makes a clear mark in the circle beside the preferred name, using the pencil provided."
As a result, on June 28 the results were broadcasted nationwide within a few hours of the polls' closing, with no worries about dimpled chads or lost log files. There were only six judicial recounts, which happen when two candidates tie on the first count or are separated by less than 1/1,000th of the votes. It only took a couple of days to sort them out, and no input from the Supreme Court was required.
Technological solutions to vote-counting don't guarantee efficiency or perfection, something Americans had better realize before November 2 or they might wind up with a bogus winner yet again.