RealTime IT News

E-Voting Machines Get The Fish-Eye

Electronic voting machines used in many jurisdictions might be headed for the scrap heap.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said today that Congress should enact legislation requiring direct record electronic (DRE) voting machines to include the availability of "random, manual recounts" in time for the 2008 Presidential elections.

Feinstein alluded to the contested result of a 2006 Congressional race in Sarasota, Fla., in which paperless DREs of the kind in use throughout much of country seem to have lost 18,000 votes in a contest decided by fewer than 400 votes.

She said a similar result in a tightly contested swing state in 2008 would have a devastating effect on democracy.

"I don't believe we can afford to wait," she said in her opening remarks to a hearing she chaired called "The Hazards of Electronic Voting." The first witness at the hearing, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, said the debacle "makes a mockery of democracy."

Nelson said he intends to propose legislation to require a paper trail for all voting machines nationwide, noting that more than 20 states don't require touch-screen machines to produce a paper record.

Nelson also said he would require voting machine vendors to open up their software to independent scrutiny. "Manufacturers so far have been reluctant to let anyone see inside the black box to check their software," he said.

Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA.org, an election integrity group, testified that voters increasingly distrust the new voting machines because they have no way of knowing that the machine is accurately recording their votes.

"The direct electronic recording of votes to computer memory is inimical to democracy," he said.

In a subsequent interview, Stewart told internetnews.com that the days of paperless touch-screen voting machines are all but over.

"You can never predict something like this for certain, but the movement to eliminate paperless DREs is, if not exactly like a tsunami, it's pretty much inevitable," he said.

Yesterday, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which would amend the Help America Vote Act to ensure that election results can be audited.

"Mandating the accessibility and auditability of elections is essential for voters to have faith that their votes are counted as cast," Holt said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Florida's newly elected governor, Charles Crist, included a $32.5 million appropriation in his budget to replace touch-screen voting machines with optical scan machines in all precincts statewide.

Last week the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would phase out the future purchase of direct recording electronic voting machines. Legislative initiatives have been proposed in Massachusetts, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky and other states that would prohibit paperless electronic voting systems and require mandatory audits of election results.

Last year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommended that results of electronic voting machines should be able to be audited independently of the software being used to tabulate votes.