Monday, April 07, 2008

Touch screen voting is stupidly expensive

It's not often that I would call The Inquirer -- the tech industry's closest thing to a tabloid newspaper -- a source of insightful and well-balanced opinion, but their article today about the costs of touchscreen voting just hit too close to my own heart to ignore. Citing a study (pdf) conducted by the Maryland voting integrity group Save Our Votes, they note that:
  • The voting machines themselves cost about $3,000 apiece.
  • Maryland's counties took out $67 million in loans to buy those machines and will be paying them through 2014, despite the fact the kiosks will be out of use by 2010.
  • By the end of this election year Maryland will have spent over $97.5 million on the voting machines it's planning to scrap.
  • Beyond the cost of the machines, the state will have paid Diebold at least $44 million for operating, maintaining and storing the actual machines as well as programming, testing, and transportation services to and from precincts, as well as training poll workers and performing "voter outreach" to promote their use among the electorate.
In all, "SaveOur Votes analysed the cost of touch screen electronic voting machines in those counties. In most of the counties their average costs per voter increased 179 per cent. At least one county saw its costs per voter increase 866 per cent, from a total cost of about $22,000 in 2001 to $266,000 in 2007."

Now I know that governments have a habit of making bad decisions and paying too much for them, but an 866% increase for worse performance is pretty stunning even for them. Throw in the fact that every known e-voting platform has (or can be) hacked, and I'd say this is perhaps the most ill-fated electronic governance project ever. Period.

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