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E-voting Groups Are Watching a Handful of States
By Grant Gross, IDG News Service
November 03, 2008
This article appeared in PC World.
Pamela Smith, a longtime critic of electronic voting machines, is worried more about long lines on Tuesday, election day in the U.S.
kind of equipment breakdown in places like Pennsylvania and Virginia
could cause problems, said Smith, president of Verified Voting, an
advocacy group focused on improving voting systems. Those two states
don't have polls open for early voting, and there has been a record
number of new voter registrations in many parts of the country,
particularly among Democrats energized by presidential candidate Barack
Several states have already reported long lines
during early voting. "This is an election that will sort of stress-test
the [election] systems," Smith said. "Any problem that's going to come
up is going to be amplified."
Several states do not have adequate
numbers of voting machines in place to back up malfunctioning
equipment, Smith said. The problem will be most acute in states with
touch-screen machines; in places with optical scan machines, voters can
continue to cast ballots on paper if the scanning machine goes down.
addition to having no early voting, Pennsylvania and Virginia do not
require paper-trail backups with touch-screen electronic voting
machines. Critics of e-voting say that without a paper trail, there's
no way to audit the results of a touch-screen machine, often called
DREs, or direct recording electronic machines.
Yasinsac, dean of the School of Computer and Information Sciences at
the University of South Alabama, is keeping an eye on two states:
Florida and Ohio. Both states have had tight elections for president in
past years, and this year promises more of the same.
with its hanging chads on punch-card ballots during the 2000 election,
was the inspiration for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation
encouraging states to move to more modern voting technologies. Then, in
2006, in a tight race for Florida's 13th congressional seat,
touch-screen voting machines didn't record a vote from more than 18,000
people who voted in other races.
Florida has since scrapped most
of its touch-screen e-voting machines in favor of an optical scan
system, in which voters mark paper ballots that are then scanned
electronically. The state still has touch-screen machines for voters
with disabilities, and it doesn't require paper-trail backups on those
Ohio has also faced problems with e-voting machines,
both during the 2004 presidential election and during a primary
election earlier this year, when e-voting machines dropped hundreds of
votes in several counties.
Since the 2006 general election,
four Ohio counties have switched from touch-screen machines to optical
scan systems. Voters in Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous
county, will be casting ballots on their third voting system in the
past three general elections, going from punch cards in 2004 to
touch-screen machines in 2006 to optical-scan systems this year. During
pre-voting, some voting locations have changed as well.
who serves the voting subcommittee of the U.S. Association for
Computing Machinery, sees the potential for trouble when voting
jurisdictions switch voting systems suddenly, without having time to
train workers and test the systems.
"It's difficult to get
voting procedures to change in a short period of time," Yasinsac said.
"There have been issues ... already of not having the procedures in
place and not having experienced people who've run that type of system
Still, Yasinsac generally believes voting officials have
worked hard to minimize problems. Since 2004, more than 20 states have
moved toward requiring backup paper records with touch-screen e-voting
machines. "My understanding and experience is that elections officials
are ready for this election, and folks should go to the polls with
confidence that they will be able to vote in a timely and efficient
manner," he said.
When they're using electronic voting machines,
voters should look out for problems, such as vote-flipping that some
voters have reported in West Virginia, Yasinsac said.
officials defended their efforts, saying they expect elections to run
smoothly. Ohio, with about 660,000 new voter registrations since the
2006 election, has taken several steps to ensure a smooth election,
said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for the secretary of state. In the 53
Ohio counties that use touch-screen machines, voters will have the
option of voting on paper ballots, and paper ballots will be available
if machines malfunction, he said.
In Pennsylvania, where nearly
400,000 people have registered as new voters since late April, the
Department of State has been urging counties to increase the number of
voting machines, said Rebecca Halton, a spokeswoman. Pennsylvania uses
a mix of touch-screen and optical scan machines.
doesn't have early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, but voting
officials are ready for high turnouts, Halton said. "We're confident in
everyone's level of preparation for Tuesday," Halton said. "We're
really looking forward to Tuesday."
Still, Halton advised
Pennsylvania voters to go to the polls during off-peak times, not when
polls open in the morning, at lunch or after work. "Come prepared for a
line -- bring a book," she said.
Virginia, which uses a
combination of optical scan and touch-screen machines, is also ready
for record numbers of voters, said Jessica Lane, a spokeswoman for the
Virginia State Board of Elections. Virginia does not allow early voting
other than absentee voting, which voters need to qualify for.
of Thursday, more than 429,000 Virginia voters had applied for an
absentee ballot, and more than 312,000 had returned a voted ballot. In
2004, 222,059 absentee ballots were cast in Virginia.
the most registered voters in Virginia history," Lane said. "We are
prepared for lines and we feel we have done the best we can with the
resources we have available."
Virginia had nearly 6,000 voting machines in 2004 and will have 10,600 voting machines this year, Lane said.
vendors expect a smooth election as well, said David Beirne, executive
director of the Election Technology Council, a trade group. The council
"will be monitoring activities for the misreporting of facts, and we
will engage in rumor control should it become necessary," he said.
"Other than that, the stage is set for the local election officials,
and the leading voting system providers will take a supporting role to
see that the election runs as smoothly as possible. The vast majority
of our local election officials have been through elections with this
equipment before ... and have trained their pollworkers extensively."
addition to Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, there are several
other states to watch on Tuesday. Ohio and Florida continue to be
toss-up states in the presidential election, although recent polls have
Virginia and Pennsylvania, once toss-up states, leaning toward Obama
over Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana all
use touch-screen voting machines exclusively, without paper-trail
backups that voters can see. However, Louisiana has paper printouts
that election officials can use to check the accuracy of e-voting
machines, said Jacques Berry, press secretary for the Louisiana
Secretary of State.
issued by Verified Voting and two other organizations in mid-October,
called Louisiana one of the least-prepared states for potential voting
problems. The report was "utter, utter bull," Berry said. "I will put
our election system against any other in the country for security."
of those states is likely to have close votes for U.S. president, but
there could be close congressional races in those states.
addition to Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida, four other states that
use a combination of optical scan and touch-screen machines do not
require paper backups for the touch-screens. Those states are Texas,
Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Indiana is a toss-up state in the race
-- Four more states, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas
and Mississippi, use a combination of touch-screen machines and other
voting methods. In some jurisdictions, the touch-screen machines have a
paper trail, and in other jurisdictions, they don't.
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