voting machines: being replaced at last

2008-01-06

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/010108L.shtml

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-voting-machine-mess,1,413186.story?coll=sns-ap-nation-headlines

States Question Electronic Vote Machines
By GEORGE MERRITT
Associated Press Writer

1:38 AM PST, January 1, 2008

DENVER ‹ With the presidential race in full swing, Colorado and other states 
have found critical flaws in the accuracy and security of their electronic 
voting machines, forcing officials to scramble to return to the paper ballots 
they abandoned after the Florida debacle of 2000.

In December alone, top election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared that 
widely used voting equipment is unfit for elections.

"Every system that is out there, one state or another has found that they are no
good," said John Gideon of the advocacy group Voters Unite. "Everybody is 
starting to look at this now and starting to realize that there is something 
wrong."

The swing states of California, Ohio and Florida have found that security on 
touch-screen voting machines is inadequate. Testers have been able to disable 
the systems and even change vote totals.

Florida's "hanging chads" in the disputed 2000 Al Gore-George W. Bush election 
exposed the imperfection of paper ballot counting and helped lead to a $3 
billion government initiative to bring voting into the digital age. The Help 
America Vote Act of 2002 effectively required that states have electronic 
equipment in place by 2010.

There are no documented cases of actual election tampering involving electronic 
voting machines.

But in tests, researchers in Ohio and Colorado found that electronic voting 
systems could be corrupted with magnets or with Treos and other similar handheld
devices.

In Colorado, two kinds of Sequoia Voting Systems electronic voting machines used
in Denver and three other counties were decertified because of security 
weaknesses, including a lack of password protection. Equipment made by Election 
Systems and Software had programming errors. And optical scanning machines, made
by Hart InterCivic, had an error rate of one out of every 100 votes during tests
by the state.

"I was surprised," Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman said Friday of the 
failures his office found. "It's an awful position to be put in, but I feel 
strongly it's important that this equipment be secure and accurately count a 
vote."

Now some states are turning back to paper -- in some cases, just weeks before 
primary elections.

California, Ohio and Florida have chosen to use scanning machines that count 
paper ballots electronically.

In Colorado, which has spent $41 million in federal grants on electronic 
systems, many of the state's nearly 3 million registered voters -- and the 
county officials who conduct the voting -- don't know what their elections will 
look like in 2008.

Coffman and Colorado's clerks and recorders are in a dispute over whether to use
mail-in ballots or cast paper ballots at polling places.

All fear time is running out.

"We look at each other and go, 'We have used this equipment in three elections. 
Why did it get taken to a test board and get decertified?'" said Debbie Green, 
who heads the Colorado County Clerks Association and is the clerk and recorder 
of rural Park County. "There are some counties having elections in January and 
February and they don't have any election equipment."

Vendors of the electronic voting machines warn against a rush back to paper.

It can take two years to put a voting system in place, and overhauling a system 
just weeks before some states hold presidential primaries will invite a new 
round of problems, they say.

"To throw the baby out with the bath water is certainly shortsighted," said 
David Beirne, executive director of the Election Technology Council, which 
represents manufacturers of 90 percent of electronic systems used in the 
country.

States have their own certification standards, complicating things for 
manufacturers. "From an industry standpoint, trying to design a voting system 
when you don't know how it's being judged is causing a lot of problems," Beirne 
said.

And having a paper ballot does not guarantee security.

"If you look at the history of election fraud, you are really talking about 
paper," said Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems 
at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times
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