Video: Concerns abound over electronic voting machines

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/3/2006 11:51:26 AM ET 2006-11-03T16:51:26

For Wendy Noren, clerk of Boone County, Mo., the shift to electronic voting has been overwhelming.

"They definitely make my job much more complicated," she says. "Lots more training going on, lots more testing."

About 16 million Americans will use electronic voting machines for the first time this year, leaving many election officials worried about voter confusion, machine breakdowns and long lines.

And about poll workers, average age 72, who are often unfamiliar with computers.

Other potential problems: Some states don't require a paper trail, making recounts all but impossible. And some critics even worry about computer hackers manipulating election results.

Electionline.org, a nonpartisan research group, finds in a recent report there could be "chaos at the polls at worst and widespread polling place snafus at best."

"What makes 2006 so unique is the variety of places in which you could have that combination of a close election and election problems," says Electionline.org's Doug Chapin.

Some Americans are skeptical of the new systems, but not all groups are affected equally. A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows only 8 percent of whites but 29 percent of blacks have little or no confidence their vote will be accurately counted.

University of Maryland political analyst Ron Walters blames a long history of vote suppression.

"African Americans, among all groups in the United States, are the ones that have the least confidence in the political system," says Walters.

There is some good news. A recent study by MIT finds that more votes were lost using old systems, like punch cards, than are lost using modern technologies.

Noren agrees electronic machines are more accurate, if everything goes smoothly.

"But I can assure people that human beings are not perfect, equipment is not perfect," she says.

Which is why she's worried Election Day could turn into a long night.

Friday in Red Tape Chronicles: This election, one-third of Americans will cast their ballots on brand-new high-tech voting gadgets. MSNBC.com's Bob Sullivan talks to Dr. Herbert H. Thompson, who has spent the last two years showing any election official who will listen how easy it is to hack democracy.

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