Industry rallies around e-voting

As Election Day 2004 approaches, controversy continues to swirl around the use of touch screen machines and other technology-based voting plans.

Late last week, one e-voting vendor announced that a machine that generates a paper record has been federally certified, while an industry group took the offensive against critics of touch screen machines. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have postponed a controversial proposal to let Americans overseas cast their absentee ballots via the Internet, a plan critics had said would be an open door for fraud.

Defense Department officials are re-examining the Internet voting plan, called the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, according to Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood. In January, DOD officials halted plans to use the system in this year's primaries after computer security experts pointed out weaknesses. Now officials are reassessing plans to continue testing it.

"We have not made a decision to discontinue testing," Flood said. "At this point, we are reviewing everything that has been done in order to decide what direction to take further testing. It's just the prudent thing to do in light of new technology."

The announcement came the same week that officials at AccuPoll Inc. of Tustin, Calif., announced that the company's touch screen machine had been approved by the National Association of State Election Directors, meaning it is certified for use in federal elections.

AccuPoll's machine generates a paper record that shows voters how their votes were recorded. Critics of touch screen machines, officially called direct recording electronic machines, say that without a paper trail, voters can only trust that the machine recorded the vote accurately. According to direct recording critics, receipts could be stored at polling places and counted by hand in the event of a serious concern about electronic vote totals.

But the Information Technology Association of America hosted a briefing for reporters last week, with two election supervisors, an attorney and an advocate for the blind defending the machines.

ITAA, an industry trade group, supports the use of direct recording electronic machines. Most don't generate a paper trail, and other companies that make them have resisted adding that feature. The machines do, however, include internal controls, such as recording votes in multiple storage locations, which serve the same purpose as a paper receipt, industry advocates said.

The machines first gained attention after Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which will give up to $3.6 billion to voting jurisdictions trying to upgrade outdated election machines such as punch card ballots or mechanical lever

machines.

But during the past few months, some computer scientists have raised alarms about the security of the touch screen machines, saying that malicious activity, poll workers' mistakes or machine malfunctions could result in votes being miscounted or lost.

E-voting advocates charge that the technology has to mesh with good security measures at local polling places. Just as poll workers can make sure one voter doesn't stuff a paper ballot box with votes, they can also control access to electronic voting machines, speakers at the ITAA event said.

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