Current Issue

Volume 77, Number 3

June 2002

Voting Technology and Democracy

Paul M. Schwartz

The 2000 presidential election exposed a voting-technology divide in Florida and many other states. In this Article, Professor Paul M. Schwartz critiques this phenomenon from the perspective of systems analysis. He considers both technology and social institutions as components of unified election systems. Schwartz first examines data from the Florida election and demonstrates the central importance of feedback to inform voters whether the technology they use to vote will validate their ballots according to their intent-an advantage he finds distributed on unequal terms, exacerbating built-in racial and socioeconomic bias. Schwartz then turns to the various judicial opinions in the ensuing litigation, which embraced competing epistemologies of technology. He suggests that judges who favored a recount saw election technology as a fallible instrument for converting voters’ choices into votes, while the U.S. Supreme Court majority trusted machines over fallible humans and required hard-edged rules to cabin discretion and avoid human imperfections. Finally, the Article concludes with a review of efforts to reform the unequal distribution of voting technology. Schwartz finds that some efforts at litigation and legislation show promise, but in many instances they are stalled, and in many others they exhibit shortcomings that would leave the voting-technology divide in place for future elections.