California has the most votes at stake on Super Tuesday, but counting those returns could take a lot longer than usual. Electronic voting machines in more than 20 counties have been scrapped because of security concerns.
In the 2000 presidential election, Riverside became the first county in the nation to move entirely to electronic voting.
"We were very, very nervous knowing no one had done it before. On other hand, it was very exciting knowing we were on the cutting edge of technology, deploying this equipment we knew we were going to be able to count votes quicker," says Riverside County Registrar Barbara Dunmore.
Most of Riverside's 3,700 electronic voting units will not be used as planned this year, however.
A study led by UC Berkeley computer scientist David Wagner revealed that e-voting is not as secure and reliable as it should be. As a result, electronic voting machines were decertified across California.
"We found the voting systems — all three of them we looked at — were susceptible to computer viruses," Wagner says.
"An attacker could craft a specially tailored computer virus that could spread throughout a county, and once it infected all the voting machines in a county, could miscount or misrecord the votes."
Wagner says any high-tech attacks would have required sophisticated hackers, but the bottom line is that it was possible to throw a close election.
Now 20 counties are scrambling to prepare for Tuesday's primary. Like Riverside County, most are using election workers to input paper ballots into old-style optical scanners.
Paul Shook is one of the elections workers at county headquarters who now has to hand-feed stacks of paper ballots. They sometimes have to be double-checked and rewritten if a voter makes a mistake or writes in some unofficial candidate.
"Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck ... a lot of times you get Superman also," he says.
On election night, county workers here will have to wait for truckloads of paper ballots to be delivered from remote desert and mountain areas.
Dunmore says it's going to mean the election results won't be tallied for hours or even days.
"E-voting went a long way to make sure all votes recorded accurately. To go back to paper that is so labor intensive, it's gonna be a long night election day," Dunmore says.
Some of Riverside's electronic voting machines will still be available for blind or disabled voters. And Dunmore is hopeful that all of the devices will be recertified one day.
"Using all of this paper to me is like charging forward to the past," she says.
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